Crazy Logistics

I recently heard someone say that having a job in South Sudan on your resume means you can work in any context. I have also heard that South Sudan is one of the most difficult places to work because the logistics and transport is so difficult. I certainly have experienced that in my 9 months. Two horrendous stories: 1. trying to get latrine construction materials from Juba in the south to the refugee camps in Maban county in the northeast, and 2. trying to get construction materials from Juba in the south to Renk in the north of Upper Nile State.

For the first scenario, there were literally tons of cargo to ship along with 2 land cruisers – too much for the little caravan planes we usually use. We decided to hire a large plane called a Buffalo, which is large enough. The plane got loaded up, but on the day it was supposed to leave, the pilots were arrested for not submitting the proper take-off forms to the airport. Then the authorities discovered that the plane wasn’t properly registered, so the plane was confiscated (how, I do not know…). Our team unloaded all the cargo again and found a different plane for hire. It made it to Palioch, a town with a large airstrip about 2 hours away from the refugee camps where the cargo needed to go. To get the cargo from the airstrip to our base, we hired two lorries, unloaded the cargo from the plane and onto the trucks, which would leave the next morning. Our team headed back to the base from Palioch to get back by sunset. The next day, one of the trucks made it to the base, but the other one had been stopped at a checkpoint and the driver arrested because he didn’t have a waybill for the cargo he was transporting! Our field logistician drove to where the driver was and got him out by showing the paperwork. Finally, all the cargo arrived at the base in Maban from Juba.

In the second scenario, there were, again, literally tons of construction materials, including cement, wood, metal pipes, and plastic pipes, and a few huge water tanks. After these materials were procured over a few months, a barge was hired to take the cargo up the Nile from Juba to Renk. It would take about a week. Apparently, the barge looked like a huge canoe, rather than the typical industrial barge. We were assured that the boat could carry 3.5 tons of materials. However, someone forgot to consider the volume of the materials, and less than half of it actually fit on the boat. Nonetheless, it set off from the port in Juba headed for Renk. Somewhere along the way, the boat hit a hippo and sank. The hippo died. The crew survived, unharmed by crocodiles. The cement sank. The metal pipes sank. The wood and plastic pipes floated down the river and are being recovered. What a waste! We lost a lot of money in that endeavor.

By the way, when I say “we” in these stories, I mean Medair, because I didn’t have a hand in them, but they affect me since I’m part of the team and work in the same projects.


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