What exactly is an airdrop and how does it work?

If you’ve been following the news coverage of Iraq, you’ve read about the delivery of food and water via airdrop to the thousands of refugees on Sinjar Mountain. But, you may have had some questions about what that actually entails; hopefully, this post will answer those questions.

What is being airdropped?

In Iraq, the airdrops contain bottled water, water filtration systems, and MREs (meals ready-to-eat), which are full packaged meals with long shelf lives, mainly used by the military. The meals are tailored to the recipients, so, in predominantly Muslim countries like Iraq, they contain halal meat and do not have any pork. In other countries where there is a longer term mission, such as South Sudan, airdrops may also include tools for agriculture, like seeds.

Why are these being airdropped instead of delivered by truck?

Delivery by truck would be significantly cheaper (about $500 to deliver 20 tons of food via truck vs. about $15,000 to airdrop 20 tons of food), but it would also require safe roads and navigable terrain. In Iraq, the surrounding area is too dangerous to risk delivery by truck and the mountain environment would make it difficult for a plane to land and just off-load the food and water. The solution: airdrop!

How does the actual airdrop work?

Representatives on the ground (Red Cross workers, for example) agree on a specified location, date, and time for the drop, generally away from large groups of people. The pilots and their crews drop pallets of food/water with parachutes over the agreed upon location. The pallets are then taken to the refugees and unpacked for distribution.

I hope that answered most of your questions. If not, feel free to leave them in the comments below.


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