Sign up today to join our online community, receive email alerts, and make a difference!
Cancel

Stories

A unique view of all the ways WFP is assisting millions of people worldwide.
Subscribe

643671
10/16/2014 - 15:27
Cash and Vouchers, School Meals


BAMBASI REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia — Sadia Mohammed is no stranger to hardship. Two years ago, she fled Sudan's conflict-torn Blue Nile State with her husband and six children.  

"Houses were burning and there was shooting," 33-year-old Sadia recalls of the fighting in her home town of Geissen. "We had to leave." 

Today, Sadia has found peace in western Ethiopia, where she is among roughly 14,000 Sudanese living at Bambasi refugee camp. Although she’s glad to have safety, Sadia and her family also live in limbo — unable, for now, to go home and restart their lives. 

Like many of the half-a-million refugees WFP supports in Ethiopia, Sadia's survival depends on monthly humanitarian assistance, along with the vegetables she grows in a small garden. Until recently, WFP's support in Ethiopia consisted entirely of food rations and nutritional supplements for the malnourished.

But today, Sadia is part of a groundbreaking shift in WFP's refugee operations here, as the agency moves from traditional food distributions to a mix of food and cash where appropriate. Now, WFP is expanding this initiative, thanks to a EUR 2.5 million (US$3.4 million) grant from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). 

“Ethiopia was the first place in the world where WFP started distributing cash alongside food to refugees in camps,” says WFP’s Country Director Abdou Dieng. “And we are seeing that even these modest sums of money are improving people's diets and self-esteem. With strong support from donors like ECHO, we plan to expand the effort so all refugees in Ethiopia can benefit from both cash and food.”

Support from ECHO and Finland

With support from ECHO and Finland, the first cash-and-food pilots began in 2013 for Somali refugees at the Sheder and Aw Barre camps, in Ethiopia's eastern Somalia region, in close collaboration with the government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. 

This May, the programme was launched for Sudanese refugees at Bambasi camp, in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region and also rolled out in Aysaita refugee camp hosting around 9,100 Eritrean refugees in the region of Afar.

“We have seen the first results, which have proven to be most effective,” says ECHO Technical Advisor Jacob Asens. “Refugees are very happy with this new initiative and their diet is more diversified – which is one of the programme’s objectives. ECHO hopes the positive initial results will be confirmed this year so that cash transfers can become a reality in refugee camps in Ethiopia in the very near future.”

At Bambasi, Sadia and participating refugees continue receiving the same amount of WFP-provided pulses, vegetable oil, fortified blended food, sugar and salt as they did before. But under the new initiative, WFP replaces roughly half the cereal ration with 100 Ethiopian Birr (about $5) per person, per month. 

"The cash allows me to buy extra food like cereals, vegetables and coffee," says Sadia. “Perhaps later on, I will buy milk and maybe meat.”

Positive results

Sadia isn't the only refugee praising the cash-and-food initiative. Many were pleased at the dietary diversity and greater food choices that cash provides. And women, especially, said the money enhanced their dignity and negotiating power with local traders. 

At Bambasi camp, Situ Nasir and her husband Indris Abdela are pleased to be able to shop at the local market—just as they did back home. "We like to be able to select our own food and take just what they need," said Situ, who says she is the main decision-maker on how the cash is spent. 

For 36-year-old mother of five Teyib Gotsi, the cash means she can buy meat and fresh vegetables, and pay for basic expenses. That's a big change from just two years ago, when the family scrounged for food, water and shelter after fleeing their home in Blue Nile State. The cash even allows Teyib to plan ahead; she will save part of it as a cushion against future hardships. 

And refugees aren’t the only ones benefitting. The money they spend is helping to boost the local economy and putting smiles on shopkeepers’ faces as well. 

This story was written thanks to inputs from Aschalew Abate from WFP Ethiopia

 

WFP continues to expand cash programmes in refugee camps throughout Ethiopia thanks to the support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). In Bambasi, refugees like Sadia explains what it means for them and their families.

643615
10/13/2014 - 18:40
Aid professionals

Freetown, Sierra Leone: When John Crisci, an Emergency Coordinator with WFP, came back last week from a field mission in Port Loko, a district about 45 miles east of Freetown, his heart was filled with bitterness and sorrow. In his 25 years of experience with WFP, Crisci had not encountered anything like the difficult circumstances he saw while conducting an assessment mission in the Petifu village.

“Last week, I witnessed Ebola firsthand in a small village, in an area which was quarantined and isolated,” he said. “What struck me most of all was that I saw two young children suffering from Ebola lying in front of the house, and the mother was there helpless.”

As a parent, Crisci thought the mother would embrace the children and comfort them while they were suffering.  However, she couldn’t do that because the risk was too high that she would contract Ebola. Instead she had to just watch them powerlessly, hoping for an ambulance to come with a medical team to help.
After several hours, the ambulance arrived and the two children were taken to the nearest holding centre in Port Loko. But it was too late. One of them lost the battle against Ebola. The other is under intensive treatment.

“I hope to see him and his parents healthy when I come back next time in this village,” Crisci said as the child was fighting for life against the Ebola virus.
Crisci’s experience is only one among hundreds of tales of Ebola since the disease became a national concern in Sierra Leone, causing the government to declare a state of emergency on 30 July 2014.

According to the World Health Organization, as of 8 October, nearly 3,000 people across the country have been infected, resulting in 930 deaths since the outbreak. Treatment and holding centres are already overwhelmed and their operational capacities are exhausted. In an effort to contain the spread of the disease, 5 out of 13 districts have been quarantined, restricting the unnecessary movement of those who have potentially been in contact with Ebola-infected people.

In response to the outbreak, the World Food Programme (WFP) is scaling up its operations to reach about 600,000 people who have been affected by the Ebola crisis. WFP food assistance helps Ebola patients get the nutrients they need for their bodies to be able to fight the virus. In the quarantined areas, WFP food ensures that people have enough to eat and do not have to leave their homes to look for food.

Beyond the food response, WFP is shifting gears and is supplying key technical assistance, particularly to medical partners, in this unprecedented health emergency. This includes construction, logistics, storage, procurement and transport. WFP is also working with humanitarian partners to boost telecommunications coverage in affected areas to ensure timely response to Ebola.

To ensure continued assistance over the next six months, WFP requires USD 24 million for its Ebola emergency operation in Sierra Leone.

Find Out More

Learn more about WFP's response to the Ebola emergency 

The unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa continues to cause distress and sorrow among families. John Crisci, an experienced aid worker who has been coordinating the WFP emergency response to Ebola in Sierra Leone, tells us about an experience he has never had in his life.

643572
10/10/2014 - 09:34
For Companies

World Food Day is October 16, but Michael Kors is rallying support all month long to raise funds and awareness for WFP’s School Meals Programme—so more children around the world can experience the hope that comes with zero hunger and a chance at a brighter future.

The focus of the Watch Hunger Stop campaign is a new limited-edition 100 Series timepiece; for each one sold, Michael Kors will donate 100 school meals to WFP. Like last year, actress Halle Berry is helping Michael Kors raise awareness for the campaign.

Customers and fans don’t have to purchase a new watch to take part and make a difference, though; they can also:

  • Text MKHUNGER to 50555 in the United States to donate US$5 via WFPUSA

  • Enter a sweepstakes for a chance to see first-hand the impact of WFP’s School Meals Programme

  • Visit a store on the 16th and get a free t-shirt, then post a pic with #WatchHungerStop

  • Add a donation to WFP on top of any purchase in October

So far, Michael Kors and customers have provided over 5 million school meals to hungry children around the world. For more information about the campaign or to sign up for the sweepstakes, go to the Michael Kors website.  

Related Information

 

A partner of WFP, Michael Kors launched his brand’s Watch Hunger Stop campaign for the second year in a row on October 1 to support World Food Day.

643553
10/09/2014 - 14:51
Logistics

BAMAKO – In March of 2012, a military coup d’état left a political vacuum in the North of Mali, allowing non-state armed groups to forcefully take control of several regions, impeding humanitarian access. In early April, WFP’s northern sub-offices were ransacked, six vehicles were stolen, and some 2,000 metric tonnes of food were looted from warehouses. Nearly 100 WFP staff and their dependents were subsequently evacuated from the North.

Enter the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS)
When access by road to the North became too dangerous in Mali, UNHAS started offering humanitarian flights as far north as they could safely go. In the beginning (April 2013), that meant Mopti; but, as international forces arrived and pushed back armed groups, UNHAS began providing flights to Timbuktu, Gao and, eventually, Kidal.

Regular Flights to Irregular Destinations
In early 2014, at the request of its humanitarian clients, UNHAS added flights to what we call ‘secondary airfields’ or, perhaps more accurately, ‘bush tracks’, to the northern sites of Niafounké, Goundam, Ménaka and Douentza. With the help of WFP partner, Save the Children, two of these remote airfields (Niafounké and Goundam) were repaired and are being maintained to meet safety standards.

Flights to remote, difficult-to-reach areas not only make it possible for humanitarian workers to expand their reach, but also allow donor countries like Canada to monitor the results of their projects.

“Here in Mali, the Canadian embassy staff have used UNHAS services to travel to field sites to monitor our projects and speak with the individuals and communities reached, which is essential to ensuring that we are achieving development results.”
Marc-André Fredette, Head of Cooperation, Canadian Embassy, Mali

Helping Humanitarians Stay Safe After Tragedy
On May 29, 2014, a Norweigan Refugee Council vehicle was travelling on the road from Timbuktu to Goundam when it hit an IED. The two aid workers in the vehicle were killed as a result of the explosion. Following this terrible event, and taking into account the rising frequency of similar events, additional routes were added between Goundam and Timbuktu and between Niafounké and Timbuktu – allowing humanitarians to avoid these increasingly-dangerous roads.

Reduced Flight Schedule
In September 2014, after multiple calls for additional funding failed, UNHAS was forced to remove flights to Ménaka and Douentza from its roster and to reduce the number of planes it uses. This service reduction will have significant consequences for the humanitarian community in Mali and the people they serve – particularly in the country’s North.

“Up until now, we have been carrying about 1,000 passengers per month and this number has been on the rise,” says Eric Moussard, head of UNHAS in Mali. “With the reduced flight schedule and smaller planes, we will only be able to carry, maybe 600 or 700, maximum, per month. Basically, we are going to have to start turning people away – people who cannot do their jobs without safe access to the North by air.” he added.

Funding: 2014 and Beyond
As with all WFP funding, UNHAS is funded on a voluntary basis by member states. It recovers some costs through booking fees; however, this alone is not enough to sustain the service.

In 2014, UNHAS has been able to serve the humanitarian community in Mali thanks to generous support from Canada, the European Commission, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Most recently, thanks to a generous contribution from the European Union, UNHAS will be able to continue at its reduced service level until the end of the year.

The humanitarian air service continues to be a vital tool – particularly for those working in Mali’s most remote and vulnerable communities. To ensure UNHAS is able to continue serving the humanitarian community in Mali next year, it requires approximately US$6 million for its 2015 budget.

 

In Mali, even at the best of times, poor infrastructure and washed out roads in the rainy season make access to remote communities a constant challenge for humanitarian workers. Add to that the ongoing security concerns of the past two years, including frequent rocket-fire in the North and IED (improvised explosive device) explosions on roads, and humanitarian access can become very difficult.

642722
10/09/2014 - 11:55

WFP has launched a regional emergency operation which will provide food assistance to around 1.3 million people in the three most affected countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Food is being distributed to people under medical quarantine, people under treatment, and their relatives. We are working alongside national governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners. 

[video:642875]

The objective is to prevent a health crisis from becoming a food crisis. In the three countries, the food chain is threatened at many levels, starting with production. Farmers are leaving behind their crops and livestock as they seek areas they perceive as safer from exposure to the virus. Travel restrictions and displacements are likely to affect food prices.

The bans on eating traditional protein sources, such as bush meat, may also have implications for the food security and nutrition of people in these communities. Some of the animals that people normally hunt for food, such as bats and apes, are known to be potential carriers of the Ebola virus.

On the top of that, hundreds of households have already lost one or more of their members. The majority of Ebola victims fall within the 15-45 year bracket and are therefore frequently the main income providers. The reduction of household income coupled with the already observed food price rise will further deteriorate the food security situation.

The Spread Of Ebola

The current Ebola epidemic in West Africa began with an outbreak in Guinea in December 2013. It has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. It is the most severe outbreak since the discovery of the virus in 1976. Click to enlarge map.

Map of the spread of Ebola

 

Food Assistance

Here's what WFP is doing in the three most affected countries: 

Guinea: WFP began food distributions because of Ebola four months ago and has reached around 40,000 people (in Biffa, Fria, Télémélé, N’Zerekore, Macenta and Guekedo districts). Preparations are being made to gradually increase distributions to 350,000 people over a period of three months.

Sierra Leone: WFP is reaching Ebola patients in health centres and affected households in the epicentres of Kenema and Kailahun as well as houses that are under quarantine in 12 out of 13 districts in Sierra Leone. Up to 400,000 people in Sierra Leone are targeted under the regional response for the next 3 months.

[story:643483,643342,643335]

Liberia: Between  July 1 and Sept. 4, WFP delivered food to some 67,000 people at Ebola case management centres and in quarantined communities. The distributions have covered 10 of Liberia’s 15 counties, including the West Point slum community in the capital Monrovia and the Ebola epicentre of Foya District in Liberia’s northern Lofa County. The plan is to reach 449,000 people over a three-month period.

Logistics

Because of its expertise in logistics, WFP has been given the job of coordinating logistics for the entire humanitarian community involved in the Ebola response. This happens through the Logistics Cluster  -- the group of humanitarian organisations that work together to ensure services like transport and storage work well during big emergencies. The Cluster has already provided support to UN agencies, NGOs and government authorities. 

WFP also manages the UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD), which store emergency supplies that can be transported within 48 hours. UNHRD has recently sent more than US$220, 000 worth of protective gear like gloves, masks and emergency health kits for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and WFP from its depots in Ghana and Dubai.

In addition, it manages the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), which transports humanitarian workers and light cargo to emergencies around the world. UNHAS is currently operating in West Africa and has flown more than 100 passengers from organisations like WHO, UNICEF, MSF and WFP into and out of the Ebola-affected areas since Aug. 16. 

 

 

 

WFP is scaling up its response to the Ebola virus to provide assistance to around 1 million people affected by the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, delivering food alongside the health response. WFP is also assisting the wider humanitarian community with logistics, helping other organisations to get aid workers and critical supplies into the affected areas. Donate here

643447
10/01/2014 - 18:46
Disaster Risk Reduction

PLANAGERD was presented to international community Representatives- European Union, the United Nations Programme for Development (UNPD), the World Food Programme (WFP), to mention some of them – who supported the project and expressed their satisfaction with the result of 15 years of effort designed to develop the capacity of emergency responses from local to national level, and the challenges that still exist regarding risk management.

The WFP contributed to the revision of the document as a member of the technical working group on disaster management. With the support of his partner DIPECHO, the WFP achieved its goal of ensuring that PLANAGERD is aligned with its focus on assuring food security for the most vulnerable populations in emergencies and disasters.

The Government of Peru, through the Ministry of Disaster Risk Management of the Council of Ministers Presidency and representatives from the National Center for Risk Prevention and Disaster Risk Reduction (CENEPRED); from the National Institute of Civil Defense (INDECI) and the National Center for Strategic Planning (CEPLAN), introduced on September 18th, 2014 the National Plan for Disaster Risk Management – PLANAGERD 2014-2021, which aims to reduce the vulnerability of the population and their livelihood against risk of disasters.

643205
09/17/2014 - 17:32

The road to Barkedu is rich clay red with thigh-deep potholes and bordered by luxuriant bush.  A police checkpoint warns you that you are entering a restricted access area. There are no “Ebola is Real” placards as you see in the capital Monrovia but there are other visual reminders.

Small clusters of houses show no signs of life. Farming families left in a hurry to escape sickness. Only some are slowly returning. Fields that would normally be busy with labourers as harvest time approaches are empty. 

As we arrive in Barkedu’s wide main street, community members are gathering in the solid new meeting hall opposite the town mosque. Paramount chief Moussa Kamara addresses his people and acknowledges the first consignment of rice from WFP, delivered by the local county health teams. The community is prioritizing families who have lost members to Ebola or who have been sick and survived.

But Kamara tells us that ongoing food assistance is needed for the close to 10,000 people in the village and scattered surrounding settlements. 

“For months now we have not been farming our fields, because people have been sick, people have been dying, people have been quarantined. Our own market is closed, we cannot move to secure food and supplies are not coming in,’ Kamara said.

We update the chief on how the World Food Programme is securing new warehouse space in northern Liberia’s transport hub Voinjama and boosting its teams on the ground to meet growing needs of communities affected by Ebola.  

Among those listening to the paramount chief is Varlee Telleh, an elegant 60-year-old man, who radiates sadness. The virus claimed his wife, who died at home, as well as two sons and a daughter in law.

Varlee and his youngest son, 4-year-old Loseme, survived, while another son, who also received medical treatment, did not make it. All three spent several weeks in the one functioning Ebola Treatment Centre in the north – two and a half hours drive away in Foya. 

Varlee has not yet moved back into his family home. It has been disinfected with chlorine, but he still fears the sickness and, he admits, the memories. But he must deal with practical concerns.

“Today after this period of grieving, one of my main worries is to how to cover the loss from the fields.  I am not longer able to tend or harvest them. I wonder how I will provide for my dependents, my extended family. I worry about feeding those who are left after all this”. 

As of Sept. 8, Barkedu counted 165 deaths from Ebola –  one fifth of the country’s fatalities.

In our brief stroll through Barkedu we see houses that are boarded up and roped off. These are all where people have died, possibly, probably from Ebola. No one is taking any chances. 

The presence of survivors in Barkedu is important, as it means that Ebola is not neccessarily a death sentence yet the fear is deep and integrating survivors not always easy. Some survivors display their medical certificates but their pride is muted. Others are being engaged by the local Ebola Task Force as advocates, telling families how to prevent and cope with Ebola. 

As we pass the site of the district market, which used to draw farmers and traders from far and wide, goats nibble grass underneath the simple wooden stalls.  It is a skeleton.  

Ironically, Barkedu sits in one of the richest agricultural zones in Liberia and until the Ebola scourge, crops forecasts for farmers this year had been looking good.   

Find Out More

 

In Lofa County, one of Liberia’s most productive farming regions, rural communities have been deeply affected by the spread of the Ebola virus.  Frances Kennedy visited Barkedu where the Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 165 lives and the community is creating its own systems to manage the Ebola threat. The World Food Programme is stepping up food assistance to this and other communities who are struggling to feed themselves.

643000
09/05/2014 - 10:51
School Meals

LONDON – The ambitious push to raise money and awareness as part of the WFP and IRB Tackle Hunger partnership, comes in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup next year.

Central to the campaign is the ‘Million Meal Challenge’ – which aims to raise funds for one million meals for children who rely on WFP’s school feeding programmes worldwide.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “We are calling on fans to join us in supporting the Million Meal Challenge to help nourish the bodies and minds of those who face a daily challenge of malnutrition and starvation.’

It costs just $50 to provide a child with school meals for a year – which, in many countries, is the only regular and nutritious meal a child receives. WFP provided 19.8 million children with school meals in 2013 – and funds raised around the Rugby World Cup will ensure that more poor households send their children to school and keep them there.

More than $21,000 has already been raised by voluntary online donations through the initial ticket sales, and with global public ticket sales set to launch on 12 September, rugby fans worldwide will have the chance to get behind the campaign.

WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, highlighted the link between good nutrition and the ability of children to fulfil their sporting potential: “WFP is instrumental in ensuring that young children get the food they need to reach their full physical and intellectual potential,” she said. “The Tackle Hunger partnership with the IRB shows how the global rugby community can play an instrumental role in supporting our work on the frontlines of hunger.”

With more than 2.3 million fans expected to attend the 48-match, six-week showcase, WFP and IRB expect the Tackle Hunger message to feature prominently and stay in people’s minds long after the games have ended.

Find out more about the Million Meal Challenge and help us raise awareness: #RWCMMC

With only a year to go until one of the most anticipated sports events worldwide, WFP and the International Rugby Board (IRB) have teamed up to raise funds and awareness about hunger at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

642969
09/03/2014 - 14:44
Nutrition, What is Malnutrition?

ROME -- Those of us working to prevent malnutrition around the world often grapple with the question of whether it is better to provide cash or specialized nutritious food to prevent acute child malnutrition. Both options have their benefits and their drawbacks. Now, new evidence from Niger shows that specialized foods are not only effective in preventing acute malnutrition, but are also the more affordable strategy.  The study by Epicentre, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Ministry of Public Health in Niger has just been published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS Medicine. Read the paper in full here.

Maradi, in Niger’s south near the border with Nigeria, was chosen as the study location. Driving into the town, there are multinational billboards along the highway next to women selling groundnuts at small road-side stalls. It has annual ‘hunger gaps’ where vulnerable households run low on food before the next harvest. Its particular social and economic make-up allowed a range of malnutrition interventions to be implemented which then meant, for the first time, the results of each option could be directly compared. 

We focused on the incidence of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) among children aged 6–23 months over a five month period. We compared the effectiveness of seven preventive strategies including distribution of specialized nutritious foods (such as Plumpy'doz or Super Cereal Plus), with or without additional household support such as a family food ration or cash transfers, and cash transfer only. 

The main finding is that acute malnutrition among the target group was equally well prevented by providing special nutritious foods to the child as by providing cash support to the household. But the cost of the nutritious food was only 8 euros per child per month (including operational costs), whereas the cash support was 43 euros per household per month. To put it another way, cash support cost four times as much as nutritious food support, with one targeting the household and the other the child, but the outcome on malnutrition prevention in the child was the same.

But this isn’t an argument against cash transfers. The study finds that a combination of cash and nutritious foods may be best. Children of households that received both a cash transfer (slightly lower at 38 euro per month) and a nutritious food had the lowest incidence of acute malnutrition (1.7-2.5 times lower compared to nutritious food only or cash only). 

These results show two things: 1) protecting young children from malnutrition requires good nutrition which is more cost-effectively provided in the form of special nutritious foods as compared to cash or ‘open’ vouchers, and 2) programmes to prevent undernutrition are more impactful when household food security is also ensured, which may require providing food assistance to food insecure households. 

This is in terms of programming for protecting a population during a hunger season in a context like Maradi, Niger.  It means that vulnerable target groups, such as children aged 6-23 months and pregnant and lactating women, should be provided access to adequately fortified nutritious foods, either in-kind or through a voucher for obtaining specific foods where the market functions well. An additional income transfer in the form of cash, vouchers or a food ration, depending on how food can best be accessed, will benefit the most vulnerable households.

Read the study here:
Preventing Acute Malnutrition among Young Children in Crises: A Prospective Intervention Study in Niger in PLOS Medicine. Authors: Céline Langendorf, Thomas Roederer, Saskia de Pee, Denise Brown, Stéphane Doyon, Abdoul-Aziz Mamaty, Lynda W.-M. Touré, Mahamane L. Manzo, Rebecca F. Grais.

Saskia de Pee is a Senior Technical Advisor for Nutrition at WFP

For the first time, a new study from Niger compares different malnutrition interventions within the same community and finds that specialized nutritious foods offer both an effective and affordable approach, writes WFP's Saskia de Pee, one of the study's authors.

642877
08/29/2014 - 07:19

For a road assessment, I travelled with WFP civil engineer Tsota Assegued and logistics officer Allan Busiinge to Rokon, a small locality 80 kilometers northwest of Juba, to evaluate the obstacles that our trucks are facing on the road headed north toward Rumbek. 

Barely 18 km outside of the capital, we met the first obstacle:  A bridge had collapsed sometime back, and a ford had been constructed as a temporary measure to get traffic across the river. 

When we got there, the crossing was flooded but passable, with some trucks, cars and motorbikes driving through the torrent of water.  It could have been worse. Some soldiers stationed at the bridge told us that two nights before it was almost impossible to cross because of heavy rains. 

“Whenever it rains and there is flood, the level of water rises to about 1.5 metres and traffic is blocked,” Assegued said. “A remedial measure would be to install a series of pipes underneath the concrete deck (of the ford) which would ensure that less water flows over the deck,” he added after taking notes and GPS coordinates of the location. 

Struggling Through The Mud

From this point onward the road conditions deteriorated further. We drove through potholes the size of a swimming pool filled with mud. Little streams and rivers cut sections of the road. Crossing one of these points, it felt like our 4x4 was swimming.  

At a point around 40 km from Juba, I counted about 30 trucks waiting for the earth to harden so they could attempt to drive through a degraded segment of road. About half of them were transporting WFP food commodities. 

What was supposed to be the road had become an expanse of mud, broken up by a series of earthen ridges and waterlogged gutters.  A trailer returning to Juba after delivering WFP cargo attempted to cross as we watched. It was a bad idea. Seconds into the attempt the mammoth vehicle was stuck, the engine grunting in the middle of the mess. Some of the wheels were spinning but the rest were thrust deep into the mud.  Out came the implements: spades, pick-axes, and diggers. Time to dig out the mud that had clogged some of the wheels and fill the ditch with what hard soil could be found, to ease passage for the truck.

 

We made it past this treacherous stretch of “road,” though; the lighter 4x4 vehicles in our convoy hopped and skidded their way through. 

A Complete Break In The Road

After three hours of bumpy and slippery driving, we arrived in Rokon, but even then there wasn’t much relief. Trucks were everywhere. The drivers said there were between 100 and 150 trucks transporting goods and cargo for businesses and aid agencies, many with stickers showing they had been hired by WFP to transport food. Were there 50, 60 WFP-hired trucks?  I lost count.  That’s about 2,250 metric tons of food that was stuck on the road. That is enough to feed 96,000 people for a month. How long would it take for this food to reach the people who need it so badly? 

The trucks were all held back by a 500-metre stretch of impassable road. Right in the middle was a truck about 1.5 metres deep in mud. It just couldn’t budge. It was carrying 45 metric tons of specialized nutrition commodities for WFP. Other trucks were transporting cereals, pulses and vegetable oil. 

High Spirits

What struck me was the mood of the drivers and their assistants. Some were cooking on the roadside while others were digging a new road to allow vehicles to pass, all in a light-hearted mood filled with lively banter.

When the drivers saw Allan, the logistics officer, they skipped in the mud with excitement. Allan used to be a convoy leader and has known many of these drivers for years.  

“Allan, we’ve been here for four days,” said Soumaili Kaka, one of the drivers. “The roads are really bad. I have been on the road for one month! I left Juba on 22 July headed to Aweil, and I am still on my way back. Can you imagine? Something needs to be done.” 

Dangerous Delays

Road transport is a challenge in any rainy season in South Sudan, but the current severe deterioration of the road network is leading to substantial delays in the delivery of much needed food assistance.  A road trip that would normally take two days from Juba to Rumbek now takes a week. 

Because the country is facing an enormous humanitarian crisis, these delays are dangerous.  WFP is having to consider carrying out emergency road repair works on some vital trunk roads so we can keep getting food through.  The alternative is to fly food around the country, but moving food by air costs seven times more than sending it by road – so the repairs make financial sense. 

WFP has dealt with this before.  Between 2004 and 2011, WFP ran a roads project that repaired 2,600 km of roads in what is today South Sudan, linking eight out of the 10 key cities and establishing road corridors not only to the north, but also to Uganda and Kenya. The country's authorities took over the responsibility of maintaining trunk roads after independence in 2011 and WFP refocused its road construction activities on rehabilitating smaller feeder roads that connect agriculturally productive areas to markets. Unfortunately, in many places the main roads have fallen into disrepair.  

The drivers clearly miss the old days.

“We are transporting WFP food to help people in this country, [so] you [WFP] have to do something like in the old days and send a rapid repair team,” Kaka appealed.

 

 

 

South Sudan’s rainy season brings months of intense downpours. For aid agencies such as the World Food Programme (WFP), the country’s limited road infrastructure makes moving humanitarian supplies difficult – particularly in the rainy season.  After reports that swamped roads were blocking trucks on a route vital for food delivery, WFP dispatched a team to assess the situation. WFP’s George Fominyen went along.