My Day In The Air Drop Zone
Denys Saltanov is part of a small WFP team stationed in an area of northeastern Congo where the only reliable way to deliver emergency food aid is through airdrops. A key part of Denys' job is to collect the food when it lands and distribute it. He describes a typical day.
DUNGU – Days begin early in this jungle region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most people in our WFP camp are up by 6:00 am.
It’s a pretty basic ‘home’ – six tents, a radio room, two prefab offices, two generators and a kitchen. Snakes and big insects are our neighbours. But we have showers and hot water! After coffee – that’s breakfast – we’re ready for work.
There are about 130,000 internally displaced people living in the Dungu area – people who have fled attacks by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. Airdrops are expensive, but given the poor roads and the unstable security situation here, they’re the only reliable way to bring emergency aid to Dungu.
My first task is to check the condition of the drop zone, located three kilometres from our camp. If it’s covered in rainwater, we make plans so any wet food dropped is distributed and consumed immediately.
Safety is key
Once our team is ready to meet the craft, I confirm this to the dispatch point in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu.
Safety is the most important consideration in an airdrop. We make sure the airdrop zone is properly cordoned off and guarded to avoid any possibility of accident or theft. We strongly urge people to stay away from the zone during drops for safety reasons. If we see anyone in the zone, the drops are aborted immediately.
The airplane usually makes a dry run, then three or more live runs, dropping 280 bags – about 14 tons in total -- of food. When it leaves, we have about three hours to collect the bags and bring them to the warehouse.
The sun beats down and the work is hard. There are also lots of snakes in the grass. I have a machete with me, just in case.
Close to the people
Once the bags are collected and delivered to the warehouse, we go back for the second drop of the day.
By 4:00 pm, we’ve delivered the second drop of food bags to the camp. We take showers, have our first meal of the day and then prepare the daily report. Bedtime is about 9:00 pm.
The work isn’t easy, but I feel close to the people here. I feel I’m doing something good, something important. The people who live in the area call us ‘the ones who get food from the sky.’