AMURU, Uganda, 14 May 2007 - Two high-level visitors, one a Korean celebrity and the other a Japanese Parliamentarian, recently travelled here to observe firsthand the situation of children and women affected by conflict in northern Uganda and to participate in a 'Child Health Days' campaign.
During April and November each year, children and parents in camps for the displaced, and in remote areas, can expect a visit from Ministry of Health workers for Uganda's Child Health Days. This national programme, supported by UNICEF and its partners, accelerates the provision of routine immunization, vitamin A supplementation and de-worming for vulnerable children.
Actor Ahn Sung-Ki, UNICEF National Ambassador from the Republic of Korea, joined in the Child Health Days that took place last month. Among other tasks, he helped to administer immunity-boosting vitamin A to young children in the Pabbo camp in Amuru District. Pabbo is one of the oldest and largest settlements for displaced people in northern Uganda.
Essential services for children
While Amuru has a total officially registered population of 195,700, there are currently more than 257,000 displaced persons in the district, originating from neighbouring districts such as Gulu and Kitgum.
As a result, providing displaced children and women with essential services - including health care, nutrition, safe water, education, protection and shelter - is an ongoing challenge.
Amuru is also one of four districts in northern Uganda where an extensive programme to rehabilitate and furnish primary school classrooms has been in place since 2006 as part of a drive to make schools child-friendly. The district currently has a total of 22 early childhood development sites serving more than 3,500 children from three to five years of age, over half of them girls.
Progress, constraints and opportunities
Earlier this month, Hon. Sadakazu Tanigaki, Member of Parliament and President of the Parliamentary League for UNICEF in Japan, led a delegation of Japanese Members of Parliament on a visit to Amuru and Gulu Districts. They examined progress, constraints and opportunities relating to humanitarian projects that are supported by UNICEF with Government of Japan contributions.
During the visit, Mr. Tanigaki helped inaugurate a newly completed motorized pump system at one of 10 water points in the Alero camp for displaced people in Amuru. The system was constructed by NGO implementing partner Caritas with support from the Government of Japan, through UNICEF.
In fact, Japan contributed some $2 million early this year toward life-saving humanitarian interventions for the most vulnerable populations in the conflict-affected districts of northern Uganda. The contribution is enabling UNICEF and its partners to assist approximately 200,000 displaced persons, 80 per cent of whom are children and women.
Complex humanitarian situation
While in the Alero camp, the delegation from Japan visited family huts; observed the work of community-based health volunteers trained and equipped with UNICEF's help; and met with young children who are benefiting from early childhood development services in centres built with assistance from the Japanese Government.
During an evening visit to Gulu Town in the district of the same name, the delegation met with child 'night commuters' inside a shelter operated by UNICEF partner Charity for Peace. The NGO was established in 2003 to respond to the overwhelming number of children choosing to sleep in the streets of town to avoid possible abductions by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
Approximately 120 children now 'commute' each night to this shelter site, compared to 7,000 per night during the height of the insurgency.
After two decades of armed conflict between the Uganda People's Defense Forces and the LRA, the country is left with a complex humanitarian situation marked by violence, poverty and the internal displacement of more than 1.5 million people. With the help of UNICEF and its partners, the slow process of rehabilitation is under way.