Background information on the IDP situation in Uganda

from Global IDP Project
Published on 12 Jun 2001
The Global IDP Database of the Norwegian Refugee Council has now released an updated country profile on internal displacement in Uganda. A summary is presented below. The Database and the Uganda profile can be accessed at, or the complete profile can be sent to you by e-mail on request (
Internal displacement in Uganda is caused by separate armed conflicts in northern and western areas, as well as violent cattle raids in the east. Although the conflict cannot be considered a countrywide civil war, it affects about one quarter of the country's 45 districts (UN November 1999). The UN estimated that 584,000 people were internally displaced by end April 2001 - a decrease of about 20 percent since mid-2000 when there was an exceptionally high number of displaced (UNHCU 14 July 2000; OCHA May 2001).

The Gulu and Kitgum districts in the north is a major area of conflict-induced displacement caused by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since the mid-1990s. Escalated LRA attacks since the beginning of 2000 have forced an increased number of people on the run, and it has been reported that 75 percent of the populations in Gulu and Kitgum were sheltering in protected areas by the beginning of 2001 (RNIS April 2001, p.41). The LRA has the reputation of being the most extreme in abducting children and using them as combatants, to carry supplies and sexual exploiting girls. The civilian population in the Kitgum district was during the first half of 2001 particularly affected by the LRA attacks (OCHA 30 April 2001).

The other main area of conflict-induced displacement is in the Rwenzori Mountains on Uganda's western border with DRC, which have been the arena for violent attacks by the rebel group Allied Democratic Front (ADF) since November 1996. The ADF violence intensified in 1998, including abduction of school children and students, and attacks on IDP camps (UNHCU 25 September 2000). Bundibugyo, Kasese and Kabarole have been the worst affected districts, but the violence has also spread to the Bushenyi, Mbarara, Hoima and Kibaale districts. Frequent ADF attacks during 2000 caused increased displacement, especially in the Bundibugyo district (UN November 2000, p.17). Government troops have reportedly weakened the ADF during the first half of 2001 (OCHA 30 April 2001).

In addition to the conflict areas above there is also seasonal displacement in eastern Uganda caused by violent and looting Karamojong pastoralists on cattle raids - especially bad during the first months of 2000 (UNHCU 12 April 2000). In August 2000 the Government announced that it was initiating a major disarming exercise of the Karamojong (IRIN 10 August 2000), but the security situation still remained very fluid eight months later (OCHA April 2001).

Displacement patterns and protection concerns

The number of IDPs rises and falls according to events. There is a tendency of people to leave rural areas and seek safety in urban centres. When the security situation allows it, IDPs often continue to farm their land during the day but seek refuge at night (AI March 1999 "Breaking the Circle"). The Government of Uganda has so far appeared to favor armed victory over the rebel forces rather than negotiated agreements. Its response since the mid-1990s to the insecurity in the Gulu/Kitgum area has been to gather large numbers of the population in "protected villages". This has been a controversial policy, and some have argued that these villages were primarily established as a military tactic and do not provide adequate physical protection (Gersony 1997, Section 1). There were in 1999 suggestions that the Ugandan government was planning to change its policy on this issue (IRIN-CEA 19 April 1999a), but the worsening security situation during the first half of 2000 made people remain or voluntarily return to the "protected villages" (UNHCU 14 July 2000). There have been reports of continued attacks on IDP settlements, rebel looting of food aid in IDP camps and even IDPs leaving camps because of inadequate protection (JRS 25 May 2001; OCHA May 2001, US DOS February 2001).

Subsistence needs

Women in the conflict-affected areas experience a particular difficult situation. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has added the burden on women, who are also marginalised by an inheritance practice in favour of male relatives (UN November 2000, p.27). There have been reports of rape and attacks on women in and around IDP settlements (Mooney and Mugumya 1998, p.74).

Food insecurity is a predominant problem for the conflict-affected populations, who have become dependent on humanitarian assistance. High rates of malnutrition among IDPs in camps in Gulu in Kitgum were reported during 1998, but surveys suggested some improvements in the nutritional situation since the end of 1999. Improved food security in Western areas has made the UN consider the situation in these areas as a "recovery phase", not a "state of emergency" (UNHCU 24 January 2000, 20 December 2000; OCHA April 2001).

Increased displacements in the western ADF-insecure areas have caused overcrowding of camps where water and sanitation facilities are not constructed for long term use (ICRC 26 January 2000, UN November 2000). The ongoing conflict has caused a critical lack of access to health services throughout affected areas, and displaced children are not receiving adequate basic education. The conflict and the displacement have undermined community support systems and that there has been an increase in crimes, alcohol and drug abuse and breakdown of family structures (OCHA 7 October 2000, 23 May 2001).

There was an outbreak of Ebola in the Gulu area in August 2000, which reached crisis proportions within the next two months and affected badly IDP settlements (IRIN 17 October 2000). WFP and NGO partners continued food distribution to IDPs in camps within the affected areas despite the outbreak (WFP 19 October 2000). When the outbreak had been contained by end-2000 it had claimed 224 lives (UN DPI 28 February 2001).


Improved security during 1999 facilitated gradual return and reintegration of IDPs in the areas affected by the LRA rebellion. But this positive trend turned the following year when LRA escalated their attacks (UNHCU 24 January 2000). Although Government forces have reinforced their presence in the western Bundibugyo area, the displaced appeared to be hesitant to return home because of continued ADF rebel activity (OCHA 23 May 2001). Since mid-2000 there has been a major return of those displaced by the Karamojong raids in the Katakwi, Soroti, Lira and Eastern Kitgum areas (OCHA 30 April 2001, pp.30-31), but this process was reversed in some areas in April 2001 by new Karamojong attackss (OCHA April 2001).

Humanitarian access and response

Lack of security has made it necessary to use military escorts when transporting and distributing food aid in most areas. There were some signs that the access situation was improving in some areas by mid- 2000 (UNHCU 6 June 2000). However, overall the UN considered the level of threat to and insecurity of UN staff, NGOs and the international community to have increased during 2000, limiting the scope of humanitarian activities and movement of these agencies because of risks to life and property (UN November 2000, p.33; OCHA May 2001).

The United Nations Resident Coordinator is assisted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA improved its capacity during 2000 and now includes six professional staff in Kampala (UN November 2000, p.119), as well as field offices in Gulu and in Bundibugyo (OCHA 21 May 2001). Funding for humanitarian activities has been reported to be insufficient both in 1999 and 2000, and as of April 2001, only 17 percent of the 2001 Appeal had been funded (OCHA 21 May 2001). However, sufficient food aid has apparently been available to stabilize the nutritional status in the main IDP settlement areas (UN November 2000). Humanitarian assistance has partly been maintained as UN agencies include support to emergency situations within their overall programmes (UN July 2000).

Substantial NGO activity has been reported both in the Rwenzori region and Gulu area (UNHCU 25 September 2000). A seed and tool distribution programme implemented by ICRC in Gulu/Kitgum appears in particular to have been successful in improving the food security for IDPs in that area, and has facilitated a partial phase-down of general food distribution (WFP 6 January 2000, p.8; OCHA April 2001). The UN appeal for 2001 included several NGO activities, but this had by mid-May 2001 still not generated any funding (OCHA 23 May 2001).

A set of "guiding principles" for the humanitarian community in Uganda was introduced through the UN appeal for 2001. The "Principles" reflect existing global principles for humanitarian action but are adjusted to the Uganda context. It is unclear to what extent non-UN actors have been consulted, but the UN appeal states that the principles have been "written such that the majority of agencies can agree upon them", and will be incorporated in ground rules to be agreed upon with 'local authorities' (UN November 2000, pp. 8, 21-24).

The country profile includes complete reference to the sources and documents used