Rebel activity in the northern and western parts of Uganda have adversely affected thousands of families. In the north, particularly Gulu and Kitgum districts, twelve years of violence by the rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has forced over 200,000 Acholi people from their homes.
Currently, this situation in the north has calmed and large numbers of farmers have been able to return to their homelands to cultivate their fields. However, farmers are not staying in the villages for long periods of time since the situation is still unstable.
To support farming activities agency staff, working in partnership with the local organization ICRISAT, are testing new varieties of sorghum and finger millet seed in Gulu. The rainfall has been normal this season and there are hopes that the crops will be successful.
In the west, rebels identified as the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), have been terrorizing local communities since 1997 and have created the displacement of over 80,000 persons. Another near crises level problem in Uganda is the high incidence of HIV infections and deaths. This problem affects a very high percentage of all citizens and has resulted in one of the lowest average life expectancies in the world.
Who is CRS Reaching and with what Aid?
CRS is responding to these emergency situations with the objective of increasing the availability of food for the internally displaced populations through the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and funding through the Caritas network.
In northern Uganda, CRS continues with its 12-month period project which invited nearly 6,000 internally displaced persons to receive seeds and extension services in exchange for participating in producing food on land donated mainly by Catholic and Anglican churches.
This project aims to empowering 3,200 internally displaced families representing over 20,000 beneficiaries.
During this period, major activities include weeding groundnuts and planting beans. The farmers who planted beans during the first season rains have started harvesting already.
Additional funds received in coordination with this project will be used for the rehabilitation of schools and bridges through food for work funding. This food exchange is commonly known as Food for Work (FFW). The project follows the traditional practices of the Acholi people and is supported by local government authorities, the donor of food resources, the Church, and the beneficiaries themselves.
Mbale District, in eastern Uganda's mountainous area that has been prone to landslides, suffered heavy rains resulting in another landslide. Reportedly 18 people died (between the ages of 3-15), 57 residential houses and one school were completely damaged, 112 houses were damaged beyond repair and nearly 10,000 people were displaced.
In an effort to aid the victims, CRS/Uganda has coordinated with other agencies working in the area to provide blankets and soap.
In western Uganda, there are approximately 420,000 internally displaced people needing food. Many of these people are also subject to rebel attack. In an effort to provide relief assistance, CRS recently visited Bundibugyo Town to assess the situation in the area and understand the difficulties in reaching the main populations. There are 120,000 internally displaced people residing in camps in the Bundibugyo District alone and CRS/Uganda aims to provide them with shelter, sanitation and water.
Bundibugyo Town is located just below Lake Albert on the Congolese border. Although the district center of Bundibugyo Town is located less than 30 straight kilometers west of Fort Portal, a district center of the Kabarole District easily reached with hard surfaced roads, the journey to Bundibugyo requires one to traverse the northern end of the Rwenzori Mountains. This trip takes about six hours and requires a military escort through a dangerous 13-mile stretch.
The landscape and terrain is a sharp contrast to the highland tea fields of the Kasese and Kabarole Districts. The Bundibugyo District has mountain formations of rock and dense forestation allowing any man over 20 feet from the road to go unnoticed. This terrain enables the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) rebels to move about in small groups wreaking havoc upon the population.
At the Catholic Mission in Bundibugyo Town, CRS staff met Father Benedict Kakwezi. Father Benedict was pleased to see that Catholic Relief Services made the effort to reach the area since, as the father explained, very few people actually make the trip to visit Bundibugyo due to the lack of security. When traveling through the District one cannot help but be struck by the closeness of perceived danger.
Recently near one of the camps for the many internally displaced persons, eight people have been killed during a rebel attack. Another camp, sheltering over 6,000 people, has had a few abductions.
To date, CRS/Uganda responded by:
- Providing more than 480 metric tons of emergency food assistance to over 47,000 internally displaced persons in the districts of Kasese, Bundibugyo and Kabarole;
- Distributing non-food items to about 3,200 internally displaced persons; and
- Building the capacity of CRS' local partners to manage relief assistance.
Facing the challenges of HIV/AIDs
Uganda has the largest number of children in the world orphaned by AIDS where nearly 1.7 million children have either lost their mother or both parents since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's. Children numbering 8.2 million the world over have been affected, Sub-Saharan Africa with the vast majority. It is estimated that by the year 2000, the number will have reached 13 million of whom 10.4 million will be under 15 years.
CRS has been instrumental in assisting several Catholic operated health facilities with home-based patient care programs. This assistance has been primarily financial in nature. Even with this assistance funds are not adequate to provide the higher priced medicines now available in more developed countries.
Therefore, the emphasis of this program is on improving the remaining days (months, years) those infected have and in educating others in preventing infection.
Catholic Relief Services Board Member Bishop Donald Pelotte just visited several CRS/Uganda emergency-focused projects including the CRS/Uganda AIDS Care and Counseling Projects at Villa Maria Hospital. He also had the opportunity to meet with AIDS victims and learn more about thier survival plights and the plights of the orphans.
Targets for 1999
During 1999, plans are being implemented for an expanded program in the north without the Food for Work component. Emphasis will be on improved varieties and farming methods. This will allow for increased production, especially when the displaced are able to return home.
Background of the Situation
In northern Uganda the continued looting, raping, killing and abduction carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army have compelled peasant families to seek refuge away from their ancestral farms. To avoid this terrorism, rural populations have either congregated in "protected villages", moved in with host families, or have found some shelter in hospitals, schools, or other buildings.
The inability of families to return to their farms has resulted in an insufficient amount of food available among the displaced populations. The scarcity of food is most acute among the displaced households headed by an orphan, handicapped person, or a woman. These women have lost their husbands to the horrors of war and famine and are now assuming the roles of both parents.
In western Uganda, as in the north, the internally displaced people face a future without a reliable source of food, availability of water or medicines. In an interview with mothers, almost all of them indicated that their children go at least one day a week without a meal. As the rebels continue to make successful attacks and raids, the displaced families have very little hope.
Even though the security concerns in the country have not affected CRS/Uganda's program activities directly in any way, the fact that camps for internally displaced people are increasingly becoming rebel targets, the Food-For-Work beneficiaries located in some of these camps may become negatively affected in the future. The government, non-governmental organizations and the Church will have to work together to find ways of ensuring security and benefits for the displaced persons. Aid agencies estimate that 50 - 70,000 Ugandans living in the west have become displaced.
Although not considered by many to be of a crisis nature, poverty among most rural Ugandans is endemic. Unemployment is high, living standards are low and marketing of cash crops is difficult, especially in the areas of rebel activity. Some enterprising businesspeople venture into those areas to buy coffee, rice and cotton in order to compensate for the risk involved, pay below market prices to those desperate for a market.