The United Nations’ food aid agency, the World Food Program
, began an emergency food air drop Wednesday for Sudanese refugees in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.
The refugees fled fighting that broke out last year in Sudan’s Blue Nile State between the Sudanese army and rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North.
Teresa Ongaro, spokesperson for the U.N.’s refugee agency in Juba, South Sudan, travelled to the Yusuf Batil refugee camp in Maban County where the air drop is underway.
“The air drop will boost the food supply available on the ground. Having said that, these refugees are in a very poor nutritional state. There are about 110,000 refugees in Maban County, and of those, about 36,000 are here at the refugee camp,” Ongaro said.
Ongaro said the refugees arrive at the camp exhausted, dehydrated and in a very poor state of health. She said for many refugees, the situation is dire.
“For many, the malnutrition rate is very high. They are above emergency thresholds. And mortality still remains above what can be expected in an emergency situation,” she said.
Ongaro said children are particularly affected by hunger.
“Sixty percent of children under five years of age are in severe, acute malnutrition programs,” she said.
On Wednesday, 32 metric tons of wheat - enough to feed more than 2,100 people for a month - were flown from Gambella, Ethiopia and dropped for the refugee settlements in Maban County, according to the World Food Program.
It is the first in a series of airdrops that aims to replenish rapidly diminishing food stocks for more than 100,000 families who have fled the fighting.
The government of Sudan recently agreed to allow aid workers into the conflict areas in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.