United Nations facing helicopter shortage


The UN predicts a shortfall of nearly sixty helicopters by April, which are an ‘absolute force requirement’ for operations in places like Sudan, Darfur and the Congo.

“It remains the case that too many of our missions struggle without critical assets necessary to properly fulfil their mandates, assets that only Member States can provide,” said Alain Le Roy, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping. He was speaking at the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping at the start of its annual debate on the operations earlier this week.
“Military helicopter units, in particular, are an absolute force requirement for operations conducted in vast and remote locations, as many of our missions do,” Le Roy said, predicting a shortfall of 56 out a required 137 helicopters by April. The UN missions in Sudan, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be those most affected.

Despite UN reservations, in September last year India announced it was taking back its helicopters serving with the United Nations. The helicopters have been going back to India in batches and will all be in India by June, where they will be used in anti-Naxal rebel operations in addition to supporting Indian troops around the country. The Indian Air Force has 11 Mi-17 transport helicopters and eight Mi-35 attack helicopters in the Congo and six Mi-17s in Sudan. On the other hand, Ukraine said this week that it will send three additional Mi-24s to the UN Mission in Liberia.

To address the chronic shortage of vital peacekeeping resources, particularly military helicopters and other equipment, the UN Secretariat begun in December 2009 to distribute lists of gaps in military, police, rule-of-law and other capabilities in order to support Member States in their short- and long-term planning.

The size of the United Nations peacekeeping force has been growing exponentially but has levelled off at nearly 100 000 uniformed personnel in 15 missions. Le Roy stressed that while the rate of growth seems to be slowing, the complexity of UN peacekeeping remains incredibly high, and his Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) will use the opportunity to strengthen and fine-tune its systems while not having to continually seek and deploy new resources into new missions at the same pace as before.
“We will continue to navigate a myriad of fast-moving and politically sensitive situations on the ground,” he said, citing challenges faced by the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the UN Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) in protecting civilians across vast areas and in responding to threats.
“The implementation of protection-of-civilians mandates continues to be one of the most operationally complex tasks for United Nations peacekeeping,” he added, noting that 2010 had been an exceptionally challenging year. “I must underscore, once again, that peacekeepers do provide protection to millions on a daily basis. This is a fact that far too often goes unnoticed.
“Nonetheless, we are eminently aware of instances where we could have done better and remain committed to enhancing our performance. Our troops, police and civilians on the ground continue to develop innovative approaches to protection of civilians.”

MONUSCO, for example, has improved early warning systems, including through the use of telecommunications technology, thanks to which peacekeepers were recently able to free seven abducted women.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is also developing a series of Protection of Civilians training modules for military, police, and civilian personnel and these will be ready for consultation with Member States by next month, Mr. Le Roy said.

General Assembly President Joseph Deiss underscored how important it is that all Member States are involved in peacekeeping since, although the Security Council decides mandates for peacekeeping operations, decisions on financing, on elaborating policies and guidelines, and reviewing implementation pertain to the authority of the General Assembly.
“Peacekeeping has to be seen in the broader context of the long-term social and economic development of post-conflict countries,” he added. “Therefore, it is essential to enhance the nexus between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. I encourage you to continue the reflection on how to explore its full potential.”