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The UPS Foundation Joins Relief Effort in Sahel

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This blog is part of a series organized by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 18 million people face starvation and 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition. Click here to read more of HuffPost Impact's coverage of the Sahel and here to find out what InterAction members and others are doing in the Sahel.

On June 3, 2012 I flew to Africa for the first time in my 22-year career as a UPS pilot. This trip was different than my usual flights. This time, the aircraft was loaded with 103,000 pounds of relief supplies including hygiene kits, tents, school supplies for children, and portable warehouse units to store food supplies. We were headed to Mauritania to deliver relief supplies for people affected by drought and violence in the Sahel region.

In the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa long plagued with drought, more than 18 million people face starvation and more than 1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from malnutrition. Malian refugees, fleeing conflict, are pouring over the borders into Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger -- straining already scarce resources. Yet despite the dire situation, the UN appeal of $1.6 billion for the Sahel was only 42 percent funded as of June 2012.

That's why the UPS Foundation -- the charitable arm of UPS that has long supported humanitarian organizations with grants, transportation and logistics expertise -- decided to help organizations working in the area transport their goods. For this flight on June 3, we were transporting supplies for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), and the UN's World Food Program (WFP).

UPS has been moving goods for humanitarian organizations for years. Last year, for example, UPS moved more than 200 in-kind shipments to 34 countries including multiple missions into the Horn of Africa, which also has suffered from a devastating drought and decades of war. We transported 2993 metric tons of food and relief supplies providing more than $2.7 million of in-kind services, and in April we flew our first plane in the Sahel.

Our six-hour flight on June 3, we took off in the early morning hours from UPS' European hub in Cologne, Germany, heading southward to Nouakchott International Airport in Mauritania. Flying a UPS 767-"browntail" (which shows our trademark brown colors), we made our way north over Europe, past the Mediterranean Sea, and into Mauritania.

We knew the region we were headed to was arid, but as we approached the airport, we all commented that not a piece of greenery was evident -- it was all desert. The approach and landing were similar to many others we had flown, except the temperature was already more than 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was only 10 a.m.

Stifling summertime heat is just one of the problems in the Sahel, a weather-battered band that stretches from coast to coast in northern Africa. The region has a long history of alternating drought and damaging floods that torment its residents with famine.

After we shut down the aircraft, we were greeted by officials from UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR. These organizations work to fight hunger, prevent child malnutrition, assist refugees and much more.

"When the refugees see the relief tents pop up and the food being delivered daily, they will know that the world cares. They will go to bed at night knowing that they will have food the next day and for the many months ahead," said one relief official.

What seemed like a routine flight for a global logistics company like UPS was much, much more.

The entire crew was happy to be part of the life-saving work that UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR are doing in Mauritania and around the world. The entire crew -- Capt. Frank Hemko, Capt. Bob Crum, Loadmaster Jacob Johnson and myself -- would like to thank The UPS Foundation for making this donation and for allowing us to be a small part of these life-changing efforts.