Refugees at the Yida camp in South Sudan’s Unity State say food rations and specialized nutritional assistance provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) are saving the lives of their children.
YIDA -- Not far from the Yida airstrip, people assemble to collect a unique kind of food ration. This is a distribution of specialized, highly fortified foods that WFP provides for all children between 6 months and 3 years old at the Yida refugee camp in South Sudan.
Tall and bald, Kuku Jabre stands out in one of the queues. This father of 10 children is one of the few men in the crowd of mainly women who have come to collect their families’ rations.
"I have two wives but neither of them could come for the distribution. One just had a baby and the second is sick and admitted at the hospital, but this food is very important so I came to collect our [family’s] ration [of supplementary nutrition products],” Jabre says.
"This food allows children to develop well. We have been receiving it since we arrived. My children are strong and healthy because of this food which helps them to grow well,” he adds. “That is why we cannot miss a distribution."
More than 60,000 people have sought refuge in Yida about 23 kilometers from the border , having fled fighting in neighboring Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
Many reached the camp in a much weakened state, hungry, malnourished and battling illness which further compromised their nutritional status.
WFP has been providing specialized foods to treat and prevent malnutrition in children, pregnant women and new mothers in the camp. These nutritional programs are vital to assist in limiting the incidence of new cases of acute malnutrition.
The refugee camp is completely cut off by road during the rainy season, making the delivery of vital assistance very challenging during those months, as it can only be done by air.
Before the rains began, WFP pre-positioned food stocks in Yida to assist 36,000 refugees until the end of the year – which, at the time, was nearly twice the camp’s population. But, just as the rains were beginning, a sudden influx of refugees tripled the camp’s population in less than three months. The sharp rise in the number of refugees means those food stocks are being exhausted faster than expected.
To overcome the camp’s inaccessibility by road, WFP is using a combination of airdrops and airlifts to replenish food stocks and ensure there is regular supply of lifesaving food and nutritional assistance for refugees living in the camp.
At the airstrip near the camp, a cloud of dust rises as a massive MI-26 cargo helicopter lands. When the dust settles, dozens of men jump out of trucks and rush to unload the helicopter’s precious cargo of special nutrition products.
“These commodities are critical for the thousands of children living at Yida camp, many of whom were living in very difficult conditions prior to their arrival at the camp and remain particularly vulnerable,” says Geoff Pinnock, WFP Emergencies Officer, as he supervises the unloading process.
To replenish cereal stocks, WFP also began a series of airdrops on September 10, which are expected to last for about two months to allow uninterrupted food distributions to the refugees. By the end of the operation, it is expected that the Ilyushin 76 cargo aircraft will have unloaded up to 3,000 metric tons. This should feed more than 60,000 people for three months.