UN Response Depot Pivotal in Dealing With COVID-19 in Latin America and Caribbean

Photo: WFP/Francisco Garrido
Published April 7, 2020

PANAMA CITY – The United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) in Panama, managed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), is the primary regional logistics hub responding to COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean. The depot has already airlifted more than eight tons of supplies, including COVID-19 kits, for the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) to 24 countries.

“COVID-19 is a health emergency that demands a global response, and Panama is at the heart of WFP’s operations for Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Miguel Barreto, WFP’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “The leadership and solidarity of Panama in these difficult times have been vital for us to work with the urgency that the case warrants.”

Responding to the specific needs of this response, the UNHRD has created a COVID-19 special unit and has planned to double the number of staff to also include a pharmacist to manage the cold warehouse, where medications will be stored.

“After commercial flights were cancelled globally, the humanitarian depot has been playing a much more important role in this pandemic,” said Francisco Quesada, UNHRD manager in Panama. “We try to ensure that all our humanitarian cargo reaches its destination within 48 hours of placement of the order.”

The COVID-19 kits for healthcare workers include, but are not limited to, face masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and disinfectants. Multipurpose tents from various partners have also been dispatched to different countries to assist national efforts.

UNHRD provides procurement, storage, inventory and dispatch services to 17 partners in the region, including PAHO/WHO, UNICEF, Plan International, Doctors without Borders, and the Government of Panama.

In 2019, 301 metric tons of supplies, including mobile storage units, prefabricated offices, vehicles, water purifiers, and medicines, were shipped to several destinations in the region. The UNHRD, located at the Panama Pacífico international airport, has a storage capacity of 5,200 square meters, of which 1,000 square meters is intended for the cold storage of medicines.

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency and it is also the logistics arm of the United Nations. WFP has responded to a number of emergencies in the region through the UNHRD. These include the earthquake in Ecuador and Hurricane Matthew in Cuba and Haiti in 2016; Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean in 2017 and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019.

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Photos and video footage available here.

The United Nations World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies, building prosperity and supporting a sustainable future for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org): Norha Restrepo/ WFP Panama, Mob. +507 66715355