Red Cross Plans First South Sudan Airdrops In Nearly 20 Years To Help Cut Off Families

05/15/2014 12:28 pm ET | Updated Jul 15, 2014
TONY KARUMBA via Getty Images

GENEVA, May 15 (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it was planning its first airdrops in almost two decades and massively scaling up operations to help hundreds of thousands hit by fighting in South Sudan.

The Geneva-based group said it needed to get food and supplies to families cut off in temporary settlements and remote areas by seasonal rains.

Five months of conflict in oil-producing South Sudan have left a million people displaced within the country and driven almost 300,000 over the borders as refugees.

President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar signed a ceasefire last Friday, although it was violated hours after it came into effect, threatening to reignite a conflict that is tearing apart a nation that only declared independence from Sudan in 2011.

"They have signed an agreement. There are points of friction, in Unity state, in Jonglei state, in Upper Nile state, with shots fired back and forth. But still it's in the frame of a ceasefire, it's not that everything has collapsed," said Eric Marclay, ICRC's head of operations in East Africa.

ICRC is asking donors for 48 million Swiss francs ($54 million) to fund the airdrops and improve water and sanitation for 340,000 people. It plans to distribute food and seeds to 540,000 people and maintain four surgical teams.

"Humanitarian assistance is needed for people to restart, rebuild their houses, planting season, vaccination of animals, food, plastic sheets, shelters, hygiene materials. (The town of) Bor is half destroyed," Marclay told Reuters.

The appeal takes ICRC's budget in the country to 112 Swiss million francs, making South Sudan its largest operation apart from Syria.

It is the first time the Red Cross has parachuted in food since a relief effort in northern Afghanistan in 1997.

($1 = 0.8898 Swiss Francs) (Reporting by Tom Miles)

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