SEATTLE — South Sudan is currently in a conflict-induced famine, as 4.9 million people require urgent food assistance. It is expected that more than 5.5 million South Sudanese will not have a reliable food source by July 2017. Airdropping food in South Sudan has been occurring on and off for many years. These drops are a last resort because of their high cost but are necessary when roads become blocked, either due to natural disasters or conflict.
The planning of airdropping food in South Sudan is crucial. Around 50 kilograms of food is dropped in packages. Bags must be dropped at a specific height because they will burst if they are released too high. Food packages are also triple-bagged so that if or when the outer bags burst, the food is not damaged or destroyed. Since the bags are also incredibly heavy, it is important to drop bags in specified zones. These zones are flat, unobstructed areas outside the community. Communication with the area also occurs so that people know to stay clear of a drop zone around the time a drop will occur. Once the food is dropped, people on the ground must come and move it to a specified distribution site.
Even with extra bagging, it is important to ensure that food and liquids dropped are not highly susceptible to bursting or breaking. Typical foods that can withstand large drops and are included in drop packages include rice, wheat, flour, dried lentils, sugar, and chickpeas. Liquids are not dropped as frequently, but water and vegetable oil are sometimes included. Airdropping food in South Sudan aims to provide nutritious food that will prevent chronic malnutrition and stunting. To address nutritional needs, the World Food Programme is dropping nutritionally fortified cereals and porridges. One is specifically fortified to address the nutritional needs of children.
One major concern with airdropping food in South Sudan, particularly because of the number of displaced persons, is that unregistered individuals and families have a much more difficult time receiving food. Airdropped food is based on the registered population for a given community. Those on the run or new to a region are not always accounted for and may not receive food if there is not an excess amount dropped.
Airdropping food in South Sudan is only a temporary solution, but as nearly 50 percent of the population faces food insecurity, it is a necessary step. Providing food now to as many individuals as possible will help minimize chronic malnutrition and stunting, as well as provide much-needed resources. Other programs are being developed in the meantime to provide agricultural resources. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization distributes emergency livelihood kits containing crop and vegetable seeds and basic tools which will allow for sustainable crop production. Ensuring that the entire population will receive resources such as these will be important moving forward, though the insecurity and violence in the area continue to present a large challenge.
– Nicole Toomey