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South Sudan: Airdrops

Airdrops - Aid from the air

How and where we are supporting refugees in South Sudan

(08.10.) The war in South Sudan has displaced more than 1.3 million people from their home regions. They have to seek out protection in refugee camps or with host families in remote villages where they are safe. There they are lacking the most basic items for survival. We are helping refugees with food and aid packages delivered from the air.

Rebels and mud: Roads are impassable

The long conflict is having catastrophic effects on the food supplies for people: the fields in South Sudan have not been cultivated since the spring. Harvests could not be brought in and reserves have long since been used up. In the overcrowded camps and in the villages, hunger is the order of the day.

Providing the war refugees with the most necessary goods is, however, a logistical challenge: many refugee camps lie in regions that are difficult to reach. During the rainy season, the roads turn into impassable mud tracks. In addition, rebels control the still-passable transport routes in the North and around the Nile. As a result, many families are completely cut off from the outside world.

Airdrops are insufficient

UNHAS map of South Sudan: air routes for aid deliveries. Click to enlarge.
UNHAS map of South Sudan: air routes for aid deliveries. Click to enlarge.

"At the moment in Bentiu we can only distribute half rations to the families", explains Mika. "There is an insufficient number of aeroplanes and helicopters to drop enough food. Together with the World Food Programme, we are planning further airdrops until the end of December, as it will be of some duration until people can plant seeds again and provide for themselves."

 

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According to estimates by the UN, by the end of 2014 every third citizen of South Sudan will be dependent on humanitarian support. The UN has declared the highest state of emergency for the country. Together with the World Food Programme (WFP), we are supporting refugees with food and aid packages. With our Alliance2015 partners, we are implementing other projects in different locations.

By air is the only remaining option

Airdrops - help from the air for refugees in Ganyiel.
Airdrops - help from the air for refugees in Ganyiel.
Helpers collect the dropped 50kg sacks of sorghum, beans and lentils.
Helpers collect the dropped 50kg sacks of sorghum, beans and lentils.
Each plane can transport 680 sacks of food.
Each plane can transport 680 sacks of food.
The week's rations being divided among the families.
The week's rations being divided among the families.
Distribution: Who receives how much?
Distribution: Who receives how much?
Helicopters made of mud. The noise from planes and helicopters is not a nuisance - quite the opposite is the case.
Helicopters made of mud. The noise from planes and helicopters is not a nuisance - quite the opposite is the case.

"Logistics and luck both play an important role in our work here in South Sudan", explains aid worker Jürgen Mika. He coordinates the relief flights locally. "We are carrying out airdrops in two locations: in Ganyiel and Nyal. In the future, food should also be dropped over Bentiu. Logistics are in demand, as the aeroplanes carrying the important staple foods come from the capital city Juba as well as from Ethiopia and Uganda. And you need luck that there are breaks in the rain sometimes: a good view is essential for dropping the relief packages and the valuable load should not become soaked through or sink into the mud or swampy areas.

How does an airdrop work? 

  • Find and secure accessible and suitable drop locations!

  • Pack everything seven times: Strong woven sacks protect the sorghum, beans and lentils during the drop – everything is wrapped seven times.

  • Heavy sacks are spread out over 100 metre lengths: After the drop, the heavy sacks, weighing up to 50 kilogrammes, must be collected up as quickly as possible, so that if they, for example, land in a marshy area, they don’t lie in the water for too long. With up to 680 sacks per plane-load and, ideally, three planes every day, this can take a while.

  • Word-of-mouth and megaphone: The aeroplanes are good messengers themselves, but people are also mobilised through the use of megaphones, and the news about an imminent distribution will arrive in each of the remote villages. 

  • Every family receives monthly rations. We provide for the refugees in the camps, in villages and also their host families. Currently, that amounts to almost 150,000 people every month. In the Bentiu refugee camp alone there are 45,000 people and in Ganyiel 56,000.

  • Helicopters are also deployed: Cooking oil and special foods for malnourished children, enriched with important nutrients, are transported by helicopter – they would be damaged if  dropped from an aeroplane.

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