Food Airlift : Critical Lifeline To Sudanese Victims Of Violence

A man at Akobo hospital watches over a victim of the latest ethnic clash that killed roughly 185 people.

Copyright: OCHA/Leonard Tedd

The World Food Programme is stepping up food airlifts to Southern Sudan's Akobo County, where ethnic clashes have killed 185 people and where many face malnutrition and food shortages.

WFP is stepping up an airlift of relief food to Akobo County in Southern Sudan’s Jonglei state following an attack by tribal fighters who killed some 185 people, mostly women and children, on 2 August.

“Food assistance is the number one humanitarian need in Akobo, besides protection,” said WFP Head of Programme for Southern Sudan Michelle Iseminger, who visited the site of the attack and Akobo town on 5 August with representatives of other UN agencies.

Iseminger saw dead bodies and spent bullet cartridges at a fishing camp beside the Geni river – 40 kilometres southwest of Akobo town and the site of the attack by the Murle ethnic group on the Luo Nuer.

“I saw dozens and dozens of dead bodies. The stench and the vultures gave us a clue to the magnitude,” Iseminger said, adding that women and children accounted for the majority of the victims.

Malnutrition on the rise

Initial reports put the number of dead at 161 but authorities later raised the death toll to 185. It was the latest bloodletting since a series of attacks and counter-attacks began in January between the Murle and the Luo Nuer.

“We cannot let this fighting go on. This could derail recovery and rebuilding efforts in southern Sudan,” said WFP Sudan Representative Kenro Oshidari. WFP was working with UN agencies and Southern Sudan government officials to provide assistance and help end the clashes, he said.

People in Akobo were desperately short of food, Iseminger said, with adults suffering from malnutrition and about 350 severely malnourished children in the town’s hospital. Dried fish was the only food visible in the market.

More food deliveries needed

With support from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), WFP has been airlifting to Akobo since June, when an attack on barges carrying WFP food led to shipments being suspended on the main supply route along the Sobat River. Current rains make roads to Akobo impassable. 

Some 25,000 people in the Akobo area are currently receiving WFP food assistance, but the deliveries are insufficient so they are not all receiving full rations.

Following the latest killings, WFP and UNMIS are stepping up the airlift and pressing for the reopening of the Sobat river to bring in more food assistance. WFP aims to deliver a total of 435 metric tons in August.