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UN to airlift food aid to South Sudan refugees

Sudanese citizens queue for food/FILE

Sudanese citizens queue for food/FILE

GENEVA, Mar 7 – The World Food Programme said Friday it was planning to airlift and airdrop urgently needed food aid to thousands of refugees and others affected by the conflict in South Sudan.

The UN agency said the conflict in the world’s newest nation had severely complicated supplying refugee camps in the northeastern Maban County with food, warning that cereal stocks there were exhausted.

“Because our normal supply routes are disrupted, WFP will be using a combination of airlifts and airdrops to replenish the stocks in the Maban County refugee camps,” the agency said.

South Sudan’s government has been at war with rebel groups since December 15, when a clash between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing sacked vice president Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting across the country.

“The crisis has seriously damaged food security,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva, while a statement warned the insecurity in the country was “pushing millions further into hunger and severely complicating… efforts to provide relief.”

The agency said so far this year it had dispatched a total of 20,296 metric tonnes of food around South Sudan “despite immense challenges due to insecurity, including looting and commandeering of trucks”.

But while it had been able to provide normal food rations to the camps in Maban so far, it warned it had now completely run out of cereal stocks there.

This was especially worrying since aid agencies at this time of year usually stock up warehouses in areas that will become inaccessible when the rainy season begins next month.

These stocks are usually moved by river and road from Ethiopia.

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WFP had last month planned to move 28,000 metric tonnes of food for Maban and elsewhere in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State this way, but although the trucks were loaded and ready to go, they were still waiting for permission to cross the border.

“The other possible supply routes, including the river from Juba or Malakal to Melut, are either closed or too insecure,” the agency said, stressing that “our only other option is supplying the camps by air”.

It said it had therefore brought in a cargo plane to airlift supplies from Juba to a town called Paloich, and would move them by truck from there to Maban, and that it had also contracted two specialised planes for airdrops that would start within a few days.

The airlift and airdrop operation was expected to be able to move an average of 2,275 metric tonnes of food each month, which is what is required for the Maban refugee camps.

Such air operations were “very expensive”, WFP said, stressing the need for urgent funding to help cover the cost.

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