The nearly two-year-old conflict in South Sudan has devastated the young country and left millions hungry. Many humanitarian agencies have struggled to reach isolated communities in the regions most affected by fighting, but WFP and its partners continue to overcome enormous obstacles to get food and other relief supplies to people in critical need.
ORINY, South Sudan – It is morning in the village of Oriny. Amidst the chirping of birds, there is also the sound of an aircraft – it is a UN World Food Programme (WFP) plane airdropping food to be distributed to almost 16,000 people affected by conflict in this area of Upper Nile State.
Fighting, floods and insects: nothing left to eat
At a school near the drop zone, women and children gather to watch and cheer after each successful drop. They have come from surrounding villages to receive food, and have sought shelter at the school, which has been closed since fighting erupted in South Sudan nearly two years ago.
"We have no food in my village," says Theresa Nyalam who comes from Padiang. "The situation is difficult. There was fighting that made people run away, then there were floods and then insects came and ate everything that was left."
Most Padiang and Oriny residents have to trek for hours to the closest major town, Kodok, in order to buy some sorghum brought in from neighbouring Sudan. And many of those face yet another challenge – they have no money to buy the food they need.
"Some people sell their clothes to get money to buy food. Others, like me, fetch firewood from the bushes and sell that to get money," says the mother of four children.
On top of all that, the food supplies from Sudan have recently shrunk due to insecurity along the routes the trucks pass through to get to Kodok. This has left most of the population reliant on humanitarian assistance, but even that support has only intermittently reached the area because of intense insecurity.
Airdrops to deliver food in inaccessible areas
But relief is coming, now that security conditions have improved somewhat and the parties to the conflict have provided safety guarantees for aid distributions. WFP, UNICEF and their partner World Vision have now been able to deploy rapid response missions to several places in Upper Nile State, including Oriny in Fashoda County.
The area remains inaccessible by land, though, WFP must bring in the food supplies by air, including specialized nutritious foods delivered by helicopter and cereals and pulses dropped from airplanes. Oil is also brought in by air.
"I am happy when the plane comes because it means there will be food."
Sixteen-year-old Chan Unek is among the audience watching the WFP-chartered Ilyushin-76 drop its containers of food. He trekked from the village of Nyigir with his parents to register with WFP to receive food assistance.
"There are a few small gardens but what they produced is not enough to feed us for very long. That is why we came here," Unek says, his hand firmly clutching a cane that he uses to walk. "I am happy when the plane comes because it means there will be food."
The fighting in South Sudan has not only affected Unek's food security. He has been unable to continue with his education because schools are closed. His worst moments, though, are the times when he has to run with his parents and six siblings, to flee fighting.
"People run all night, the rain is falling and you have to hide under trees. It is so difficult."
Most of the people camped at the school in Oriny are grateful that they are able to receive assistance but what they really want is for the recently signed peace agreement to hold and for the fighting in South Sudan to end.
"I would like God to touch the hearts of the people who are fighting so that they can live in peace and allow us to live in peace."
"I would like God to touch the hearts of the people who are fighting so that they can live in peace and allow us to live in peace. Because we really don't know what they are fighting for," says Nyalam, who is breastfeeding her three-month-old, a girl named Rejoice.
"We are thankful that the world has seen our suffering and starvation and they have come to our help. If this war does not end, we pray that they continue to bring us food."