The Somali region of Ethiopia is not an easy place to work. Clan disputes, banditry, searing heat and endless miles of harsh terrain make it one of WFP's most challenging missions. Food distribution in the region would be all but impossible were it not for a fleet of ailing, decades old trucks that are a key part of WFP Ethiopia's operations.
The FIAT N3, which the locals call "entre", was built by the Italian motor group FIAT for heavy commercial work. The locally owned trucks are usually purchased from regional transporters and then leased out to larger charter companies for commercial and relief operations.
Since the drivers are from the Somali region they are familiar with the roads and terrain. Also, because they are locally owned the potential for the vehicles falling prey to bandits and random attacks is quite low. Finally, the regional government is in favor of WFP using them in its operations since the business created goes into supporting the local economy.
One of the major drawbacks to using such vehicles is there age and declining reliability. The ingenuity of the drivers and mechanics keeps them running but days on the road in tightly formed convoys take their toll on the half-century old trucks.
Normally, such unreliability is not a major factor in the supply chain but due to a recent upswing in the level of violence in the region government escorts are no longer allowing the most dilapidated trucks into convoy.
The wariness is justified as one broken down truck necessitates leaving behind 6-8 armed soldiers to protect the vehicle. The soldiers themselves can then become targets and, for the military, this is an unacceptable liability.
As long as WFP is tasked with delivering food in the region, over 150,000 metric tonnes between October 2008 and December 2009, they will need a trucks that can travel in the region. The FIAT N3 has been a stalwart of operations for years but with its ever shortening lifespan it is clear that replacement trucks are needed. However, until those trucks become available the FIAT N3 will remain the backbone of WFP's operations in the Somali Region.
Special thanks to: Bervery Chawaguta, Paul Karago, Sahid Haji and the entire WFP Ethiopia team!