The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has started airdropping food aid to remote areas of South Sudan that are unreachable because of insecurity "and other obstacles," including the onset of the rainy season, the U.N. agency said.
Enough cereals to feed about 8,000 displaced people for 15 days were airdropped on Tuesday to the town of Ganyiel in Unity state, WFP spokeswoman Challiss McDonough said.
More airdrops are planned for eight other locations that have been identified as being in urgent need of food assistance, McDonough said. All the sites are in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, where fighting has continued, weeks after a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in January.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people in critical need of food assistance and we have not been able to reach them by road or river, and there is no airport where airplanes can land," McDonough said.
"So we have to drop them by air," she said, adding that food assistance is being provided in both government and anti-government controlled areas.
Sacks of grain are pushed from a World Food Programme plane over Ganyiel in Unity state, South Sudan, on March 18, 2014.
WFP Country Director Chris Nikoi said the agency has resorted to airdrops after it found itself faced with "more difficulties than envisioned," caused by the ongoing fighting in the three states, as well as border restrictions and other unspecified "barriers to humanitarian access" that have prevented the delivery of food aid.
"Given the level of the conflict, we have known for some time that we would have to move some food by air to some parts of the country, particularly during the rainy season," when much of South Sudan is inaccessible by road, Nikoi said.
But airdrops are one of the costliest ways of getting food to people in need, and are straining the WFP's resources, said McDonough.
WFP has so far provided food assistance and nutrition support to around 765,000 people in South Sudan since the crisis began in mid-December, and aims to scale up its assistance to support 2.5 million conflict-affected and food-insecure people in the young country over the coming months.
WFP is also supporting a growing number of South Sudanese who have fled to neighboring countries to escape the fighting that is ongoing.
More than 210,000 refugees from South Sudan have arrived in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan since the crisis began, according to the U.N.
“We are concerned about reports of alarmingly high rates of malnutrition among children arriving at refugee camps in neighboring countries, particularly Ethiopia” said Valerie Guarnieri, WFP Regional Director for East & Central Africa.
“While we are working with partners to provide specialized nutritious foods for refugee children, the high levels of malnutrition are a sign that the humanitarian situation in inaccessible regions of South Sudan may be rapidly deteriorating,” she said.