The man on the ground in the big blue hat stands under an unforgiving sun on the edge of an empty field in rebel-held territory near a town called Din Din, in South Sudan’s famine-stricken Unity state. 

He reads a waybill number into his two-way radio: "Commodity, sorghum. One eight metric tonnes. Commodity, pulses. Two zero zero bags."

The radio crackles back to life with a "Roger" from the voice with a Russian accent on the other end. "Next call five minutes. Inbound for life run." 

The pilot of an Ilyushin aircraft makes a first pass overhead, part of a massive food drop organized by the UN’s World Food Program in one of two declared famine zones in the central northern state.


The blue sacks dropped from the plane contain a fortified cereal mix that helps stave off acute malnutrition in children under five. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)


John Kimenia of Kenya is a veteran of World Food Program airdrops in Africa. He’s in contact with planes that fly from air hubs in Juba, South Sudan, and Entebbe, Uganda. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

More than 400 metric tonnes will have fallen from the sky by the time they're done, with planes taking part from as far away as Entebbe, Uganda, to the south and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the east.

The emergency food is expected to last at least a month for more than 20,000 people driven from their homes by the country’s brutal civil war. The WFP has dropped here once before, 30 days ago.

From the ground, the sacks of grain look like packets of coloured candy tumbling through the air. They land with a thud, sending up great billowing puffs of dirt that give the horizon a scorched-earth effect.