Air Dropping Food in South Sudan

5716A year ago, Food for the Hungry (FH) had offices in South Sudan. We were excited to help this new country establish communities and rebuild. With seven South Sudan offices in Malakal, Bor, Old Fangak, Waat, Lankein and Ulang—we were ready to work.

Today, the Malakal office is burned down and the others are looted. The staff fled to safe locations in January after violent conflicts erupted. Some FH staff went to Ethiopia, but now they are returning to work, replenishing offices with new computers and communications equipment.

Life in South Sudan is hard right now. People continue to be displaced within Upper Nile and northern Jonglei, with refugees arriving daily in Ethiopia. People flee to safety when one fighting party or the other takes or abandons a town. But now people are returning.

For example, people who fled Ulang at the height of the conflict are now coming back to South Sudan for multiple reasons. The town was taken over by fighting forces, but now it has changed hands. It is also the right time to return for these people, as it is the season when they must cultivate crops if they are to have a harvest.

5151The United States Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has provided funding for FH to deliver seed, hygiene and water supplies and equipment to counties in the conflict areas where there are significant concentrations of displaced people. “It is the most flexible OFDA grant I have ever seen,” said one FH staff.

Essentially it allows FH to deliver to whatever counties are accessible, and where there are people in need, in the conflict areas of South Sudan. Therein lies the challenge!

A year ago, the seed and water supplies would have been purchased in Uganda, trucked to Juba, put on a barge down the White Nile to Malakal, and then delivered by boat to the project locations. Now, those locations are accessible only by air, and there is simply no more capacity at Juba Airport.

So the seed is trucked from Juba to Rumbek, and will be flown from there. The FH field staff in South Sudan have prepared lists of the most needy in the communities, and they will be responsible for distribution of the seed, along with food from the World Food Program.

There are already dire warnings from the Famine Early Warning System and the United Nations of a food crisis in the months ahead, so seed delivery is being given top priority.

But there is no airstrip in Ulang! Under normal circumstances the nearest airstrip is in Nassir – only a few kilometers up the Sobat River. But Ulang is held by the opposition and Nassir by the Government of South Sudan. In theory, humanitarian assistance is allowed to “cross the lines,” and indeed seed is being flown from government-held Juba to opposition controlled communities.

But out in the counties, there have been attacks on conveys, burning of trucks and destruction of food supplies.  So for Ulang, things must be done differently. FH has signed a contract with the World Food Program to air-drop food. WFP cargo planes load in Gambella, Ethiopia, then fly to a designated location.

The bags are dropped from a height of about 300 meters to the ground, where FH staff and the local communities have organized distribution. And as for the seed – it will go from Juba to Ulang on a helicopter operated by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services.

You are a part of this work. With your support, you’re helping FH provide for staff and find ways to keep our working in these areas. Thank you and please pray for our work during this critical time.

Stephen Houston is Food for the Hungry’s  Humanitarian Response Manager in South Sudan. He is a Canadian with a long career in planning and implementing programs dealing with natural disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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