For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Red Cross has resorted to large scale airdrops to distribute vital aid to the people of South Sudan.
The drastic step is an indication of the magnitude of the crisis facing the world’s newest nation, which has seen five months of intense conflict.
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Access to remote parts of South Sudan, a country about the size of France, is extremely difficult at the best of times.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has started using airdrops, is increasing its humanitarian efforts in the war-torn nation as it aims to provide emergency food supplies to 420,000 people over the next month.
The conflict and rainy season mean that air is the only way of getting large quantities of aid to some parts of the country.
Cholera and famine
Ben Webster, British Red Cross disaster response programme manager, said: “South Sudan is not a country on the brink of disaster, it’s a country already in the midst of a vast disaster – and it’s getting worse.
“More than one million people have reportedly been made homeless while thousands have been killed or wounded.
“The Red Cross and other aid agencies have launched a massive aid effort, but more needs to be done. It’s not enough to act only when famine has been declared; when it gets to that stage, it is already too late.”
To compound matters, there has also been an outbreak of cholera in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Several fatalities have so far been confirmed amid reports that the water-borne disease is spreading.
Hundreds of thousands of people are living in makeshift camps exposed to harsh conditions in South Sudan. Shelter, clean water, food and healthcare are desperately needed.
In conjunction with the South Sudan Red Cross, the ICRC is working to:
- distribute fishing gear to 420,000 people
- provide seeds and tools to 120,000 people
- supply clean water to 340,000 people
- support four mobile surgery teams to treat war wounded
- provide surgical and paediatric support to three hospitals
- restore contact between separated family members
“Our staff on the ground are assessing needs and making the necessary preparations to take delivery of the aid being dropped at specific locations,” said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in South Sudan.
“Together with South Sudan Red Cross volunteers and the local community, they will see to it that the aid is distributed fairly to those who need it most.”
The last time the Red Cross used airdrops was in northern Afghanistan in 1997.