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Jane Howard works for the Division of Communications at WFP’s Rome headquarters.
The world’s biggest helicopter has begun airlifting food aid into a remote part of Southern Sudan after river boats trying to deliver urgently needed WFP supplies were attacked. The airlift comes amidst growing concerns about the fragile security situation in the south.
>> Sudan is the biggest country in Africa, covering an area comparable to eight countries the size of Italy.
>> In 2009 alone, 130,000 Sudanese have fled their homes due to fighting in the south.
>> A WFP assessment for 2008 to 2009 estimated that more than one million people in Southern Sudan are in need of food assistance.
>> Only one in four school-age children are enrolled in education in south Sudan. In 2009, WFP hopes to reach more than 400,000 children - especially girls - with food to encourage them to go to school.
An Mi-26 heavy lifting helicopter capable of transporting 10 metric tonnes per flight has been deployed to deliver food to 19,000 displaced people in Akobo in Jonglei state. The giant aircraft was moved to the area when a 27-barge convoy of aid navigating along a tributary of the White Nile came under fire on 11 June and the 735 metric tonne cargo of sorghum and pulses was lost (read more).
“We prefer not to use an airlift – normally we use the river in this part of Sudan because of poor road conditions and the security situation in the area,” said Amorcecille Almagro, a spokeswoman for WFP in Khartoum. “Now we have had to resort to an airlift, even though it is very expensive.”
Unfortunately, the helicopter cannot operate in heavy rain, and it has been unable to fly every day. WFP has also been using a Buffalo transport plane but this can only carry half as much cargo as the giant helicopter.
WFP has been providing food assistance to the displaced in Akobo – near the Sudan border with the Ethiopia – since they fled their homes in April this year when fighting broke out between rival tribes over cattle grazing rights and other issues.
The upsurge in violence in the area has meant that WFP has had to concentrate on providing emergency assistance at a time when it had planned to focus a lot of its work on reconstruction and recovery projects such as road-building and Food for Education.