Food airdrops save S. Sudan's helpless communities

Food airdrops have saved the helpless communities with South Sudan, delivering basic goods to remote areas becomes harder

Food airdrops save S. Sudan's helpless communities

World Bulletin / News Desk

With the weather playing a major role in hampering road access during the rainy season, and with insecurity isolating many communities, airdrops have become a viable option for delivering basic goods to hard-to-reach areas of war-torn South Sudan.

"When we talk about delivering humanitarian assistance, particularly food assistance, South Sudan is one of the most challenging places where the UN World Food Program (WFP) works and operates," WFP spokesman George Fominyen told Anadolu Agency.

"We have a situation where infrastructure is quite minimal. For instance, you don't have roads. Meanwhile, about 65 to 70 percent of the roads in the country become inaccessible at the height of the rainy season, which makes it very hard for organizations such as the WFP to move humanitarian cargo – in our case, food," he explained.

"Our preferred mode of moving food commodities is by road, then by river. When it becomes impossible to do this, we are forced to use air operations, where we deliver food assistance by airlift or airdrop," said the UN official.

He noted that there were certain locations, which – even during periods of limited rainfall – remained inaccessible by road.

"Even during the dry season, we still have to airlift and airdrop food assistance. This is also due to insecurity," Fominyen explained.

South Sudan has been ravaged by violence since December of 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his sacked vice-president, Riek Machar, of leading a coup attempt against his regime.

The ensuing conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead, two million seeking refuge – both internally and in neighboring countries – and 2.5 million at risk of starvation in 2015, according to UN data.

On-again, off-again peace talks in Addis Ababa, meanwhile, have failed to produce any tangible breakthroughs.

Renewed violence in Unity and Upper Nile states recently saw the withdrawal of several aid agencies, leaving vulnerable communities without desperately needed humanitarian assistance.


With the onset of the country's rainy season, the predicaments faced by hard-to-reach communities are bound to get worse.

With an urgent need for humanitarian assistance to affected people, the WFP has resorted to airdropping food supplies.

Following a test drop in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, on April 30, the WFP carried out its first-ever successful airdrop – by plane – of vegetable oil on May 8 in Unity State's Ganyiel.

"In May, we were able to sample test in Ganyiel, which was a normal drop. The only difference was that we were airdropping vegetable oil for the first time successfully," Adham Effendi, the WFP's logistics officer in South Sudan, told Anadolu Agency in an interview in Juba.

Dropping out of a plane flying 200 meters above the ground, little parachutes open up and bring the vegetable oil to earth in a slow descent.

Three tins or plastic oil containers were placed on top of a polypropylene bag that served as a cushion. They were wrapped up together in a box with a parachute connected to each box.

Twenty eight boxes were stacked on a palette in the aircraft.

"So when the aircraft releases its cargo, the parachute opens at 200 meters and the descent is much slower. As a result, the impact on the ground is minimal," Effendi explained.

"The airdrop was 99 percent successful," asserted the WFP official.

Each month, the WFP has to move an average 300 metric tons of vegetable oil via helicopter airlifts into remote areas, particularly in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states.

Effendi said that, while airlifts work well, the quantities that oil helicopters can carry is small when compared to local communities' needs.

In a press release dated May 21, the WFP noted that the new method of airdropping would cut the cost of air deliveries of vegetable oil by some 50 percent, saving as much as $14 million per year.

The vegetable oil airdrop was the second of its kind after the successful airdrop last November of Super Cereal Plus – a specialized nutritious food used to prevent and treat malnutrition in children.

"Just by dropping Super Cereal Plus, we have saved around $18 million over this period," Effendi said.


When goods are airdropped, WFP staff members on the ground ensure they land in safe areas.

"Airdrops are very risky, because a pilot is dropping the food from a very high altitude and many things can happen," Michael Eliaba Muki, WFP logistics assistant and airdrop coordinator, told Anadolu Agency.

"It can fall beyond the demarcated area into villages and onto human beings or among trees," he noted.

Because of the risk, Muki said, drop zones must be in the bush, at least 3 kilometers from any village.

The deployment of staff members is based on assessments by the WFP and other aid agencies.  

"Most of our movements are based on security considerations," said Muki.

"Some people may have fear, but we are always confident that – in the integral part of our operation – the security personnel are doing their best for our security," he added.

Drop zone coordinators are deployed to beneficiary areas, where they demarcate drop zones, obtain the coordinates, and forward them on to the head office, which, in turn, provides them to the pilots.

Committees, Muki said, are formed on the ground ahead of food deliveries.

These include porters who collect the food; crowd controllers who prevent unauthorized persons and wild animals from entering the drop zone; and village collectors who collect damaged or spilt items.

"When we assemble all these foods, we see if it can serve the caseload of beneficiaries. Then we, logistics, hand them over to the program officers on the ground for distribution," he added.

Between preparing the drop zone and finally dropping the items takes between five and eight days, depending on local geography, Muki said.

Swampy areas have proven to be a particular headache for airdrops, he added, citing a recent incident in a drop zone in Unity State.

"Most of the place was swampy. What we did was try to locate an area where the depth of the water was 15 to 16 centimeters," Muki said.

"We had to triple the labor force and the number of porters and design a way of removing the food from the water before it is ruined," he added.

"As soon as the plane drops the food, we have to rush in quickly to collect it. It is a very tough job; you must make people move very fast," said Muki.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Mayıs 2015, 14:17