More than 300 Norwegian Red Cross volunteers have worked 5,000 hours in the past two weeks to ensure that trucks donated by the Norwegian defence forces are prepared for their new role. The transportation and distribution of food aid for up to 1.3 million people each month in southern Africa by the Red Cross and Red Crescent. They are among the estimated 13 million people in the region on the brink of starvation, largely due to a drought that has left a series of failed harvests.
A total of 231 trucks, landcruisers, cranes, fuel tankers and mobile repair workshops have been cleaned and painted with the Red Cross emblem. And today, they left the Norwegian port of Drammen for Durban in South Africa.
"The number of people calling us to volunteer has been enormous. The phone lines haven't kept quiet ever since we appealed for help. This has turned into a gigantic national operation. We would never have made it without the volunteers," says Thorvald Stoltenberg, President of the Norwegian Red Cross.
The trucks - 203 M6 trucks - each capable of transporting 5 metric tonnes and donated by the Norwegian Defence Forces, will be able to reach communities in remote, difficult-to-access rural areas as they will be able to travel off-road. The fleet also consists of 10 long-haul trucks which will be able to transport 400 tonnes of food at each rotation. An estimated 250,000 tonnes of food is expected to be distributed by the International Federation over the next nine months.
Reaching communities in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi, the five countries targetted in an appeal by the International Federation last week, is a major challenge not only for the Red Cross and Red Crescent, but also for other humanitarian agencies working in the region. The size of the fleet and its capabilities will go some way towards meeting that challenge.
The trucks, which are due to arrive on August 22, are expected to be fully deployed early September Part of the fleet will also be put at the disposal of NGOs if necessary in partnership with the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) and could reach another 550,000 people each month in addition to the 750,000 people the International Federation operation is expected to assist throughout its appeal.
The Federation appeal for 62 million US dollars also includes plans for improvements to water and sanitation facilities in poor rural communities. Blankets and medical supplies will be provided and subsistence farmers will benefit from distributions of agricultural tools, seeds and fertilizer.
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