A South Sudan truck convoy is en route to deliver food assistance. Copyright: WFP
The road infrastructure in South Sudan can be challenging. Seasonal rains which occur from March to October turn roads into mud and streams into rivers. WFP uses its fleet of over 70 trucks in South Sudan, 20 of which are its own, to navigate the rising waters as best they can.
During the rainy season, WFP takes on added precautions in helping to ensure that food reaches its destination. Each truck is prepared for possible challenges and is equipped with high-frequency, VHF radios as well as GPS, towing bars, ropes, spades and machetes for clearing the bush. In addition to Renault trucks which are all equipped with winches, support trucks are deployed when needed: a mobile workshop carries spare parts, while a fuel tanker carries reserves should a truck run out of gas. A rescue truck is also available to pull out those fleet that become stuck in the mud.
Even with these preparations, obstacles beyond control can make it difficult for WFP drivers in South Sudan. WFP Fleet Manager Mohammed Adil in Juba tells us a recent story:
“Some months ago, in the early morning light of April, WFP Kapoeta Logistic base deployed nine fleet trucks loaded with food commodities to the nearby villages of Loyangagpel, Napetsigiria, Kolobeleny and Kalukupe. Good intentions were met with unrelenting seasonal downfall born from the Ethiopian highlands, as all nine vehicles became immobilized in the mud near the Nyangachor junction.
Convoy leader Santo Taban radioed the base in Kapoeta to say they were trying hard to pull the trucks out. Five hours later, all nine were off and on their way again.
Soon after, one truck got stuck near Kalukupe village, and our driver John Julius radioed for help. The rescue began, and two more trucks came to John’s aid. Unfortunately one of the trucks needed maintennance repairs en route, but the other continued on to rescue the stranded truck.
The heavy rains went on as the rescue truck reached the Natpotpot River where another WFP vehicle was stranded. While trying to cross the river, WFP driver Simon Azaria felt the wheels of his truck become trapped in the river bed. In less than five minutes, he saw water rising at a tremendously fast speed. With just enough time to get on the HF radio and sound for help, he jumped out before the wall of water reached the truck. Luckily, Simon wasn’t hurt, and another truck was able to reach John. Both are still driving with us in South Sudan.”
Q: How much is 18,000 metric tonnes of food?
A: That's equivalent to the weight of 3,600 African elephants, at 5 metric tonnes each!
Once could imagine that instances like this help to keep drivers aware and cautious of their environment when delivering food for WFP in the deep field. Just a month later, this vigilance would be put to use when a convoy of WFP trucks delivered assorted food commodities to the village of Pochalla. On their return, they approached a flooded river. After making the decision that the water levels were too high to cross, they waited for the water to subside. Two days later, it was safe enough to cross and the convoy was on it way again.
Regardless of obstacles in the way, from March to August of this year, WFP South Sudan has transported nearly 18,000 metric tonnes of food to various parts of the country using its available fleet.