South Sudan – Inside an Emergency

Anatomy of an Aid Distribution | South Sudan

by Melany Markham, Communications Officer, LWF South Sudan

Emergencies often occur in remote and isolated places. Even when they happen in big cities, major infrastructure and other commodities are almost always wiped out. Logistics becomes fundamental to helping people, making sure they get what they need as soon as possible.

But how do you get large amounts of food and other material aid to the site of an emergency? Following the journey of non-food items from warehouse to distribution in South Sudan gives an insight into the logistical difficulties that aid workers face.

Bor, South Sudan| July 2011

200 sacks–each containing two blankets, two mosquito nets, two jerry cans, a kitchen knife, pots, cups, plates and soap–are stored in empty offices in the Church and Development compound in Bor. This is called “pre-positioning” stock and the sacks are called “non-food items”–NFI kits, for short. Non-perishable items such as this are often warehoused in or near areas that are disaster-prone.

Jonglei State | January 2012

Aid agencies conduct assessments of the areas in Jonglei State affected by violent attacks. They record the number of people made homeless and who are without food and water. They note anything else that people might need. These agencies then meet and decide who will do what, for whom. This means that the most vulnerable people are helped first and also that the agencies don’t duplicate work.

There are thousands of people–many of whom have lost their homes–who need every kind of assistance: food, water, basic household items.

The LWF is focusing on providing NFI kits, so 2,000 are ordered from Kenya. It will take two weeks for them to reach Bor.

Bor | 26 January 2012

A truck is hired to transport 200 NFI kits that are stored in Bor to Duk Padiet, over 200 kilometers north. The roads in South Sudan are rough and potholed, often causing breakdowns and increasing the cost of transport. The LWF could pay anywhere from USD 2,500 to 5,000 for the journey, so staff must bargain hard.

Bor | 27 January 2012

11.15 a.m. – Workers start loading the truck with the kits. All 200 fit, so only one journey will be necessary.

LWF workers in Bor load kits containing emergency supplies onto a truck bound for Duk Padiet, where many people have sought safety after their homes were destroyed by cattle raiders © LWF/Melany Markham

2.10 p.m. – The truck leaves for Duk Padiet. The driver has a letter stating what the load contains so that he can easily pass through the numerous checkpoints he will encounter along the way.

7.15 p.m. – After five hours driving for a distance of some 120 km, the truck arrives safely in Panyagor but needs repairs. This will delay the arrival of the NFI kits in Duk Padiet by one day.

Panyagor-Duk Padiet | 28 January 2012

12.24 p.m. – Repairs are completed and the truck leaves for Duk Padiet. Since leaving Bor, LWF staff have been informed by the local authorities that over 300 kits are needed. Fortunately, stock has been pre-positioned in Panyagor, so staff can assemble 120 additional kits, but the truck will need to turn around after the first journey has been completed in order to collect the additional NFI kits.

6.10p.m. – The truck finally arrives in Duk Padiet, a town less than 100 km north of Panyagor. As it is dangerous to travel at night, the driver sleeps overnight in the town.

Panyagor-Duk Padiet | 29 January 2012

9.10 a.m. – The truck leaves Duk Padiet to collect the remaining kits, but breaks down after 20 km. As the driver is out of mobile phone range, he is unable to call the LWF and inform them that he won’t arrive in time.

2.30 p.m. – When the truck fails to arrive to load the remaining NFI kits, staff realize that something must have happened. When they are unable to contact the driver, they try to find another truck and driver.

4 p.m. – Another driver cannot be found, so all the kits will not be delivered in time. The LWF calls the local authorities in Duk Padiet to inform them that some of the kits will arrive late. They decide to begin the distribution the following day as planned and distribute the remaining kits when they finally arrive one day late.

Panyagor-Duk Padiet | 30 January 2012

6.30 a.m. – LWF staff leave from their base in Panyagor to manage the distribution.

9.15a.m. – LWF staff arrive in Duk Padiet, which had a population of 18,000 before the attacks. People who are to receive the kits are already queuing outside the temporary warehouse, which has been under guard overnight.

11.25 a.m. – LWF staff distribute NFI kits to 200 people whose homes were burned and who lost everything in the attacks. They have been listed by local authorities. Once they have a kit, the person puts a fingerprint beside their name on the list acknowledging receipt.

2.50 p.m. – Today’s distribution is finished. Some of the staff head back to Panyagor for the night, while others stay in Duk Padiet to finish the distribution tomorrow.

Many, many distributions like this will take place during an emergency. Staff will have to overcome unimaginable difficulties in order to get aid to where it needs to go. When they succeed, feelings of satisfaction and relief are almost palpable.

The LWF provided 320 NFI kits in this distribution.

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