The announcement comes at a crucial time, as violent attacks by rebel groups operating in the northern part of the country continue unabated, and tens of thousands of Ugandans have been forced out of their homes. Many have sought shelter and protection in ad-hoc camps near urban centers. Alarmingly, rebel groups have also targeted some of these camps over the past few weeks making the situation even more desperate.
"We're doing everything possible to ensure that food aid continues to reach these people whose lives have been devastated by senseless violence," said Burk Oberle, WFP's Regional Manager for the Great Lakes region. "Attacks, ambushes and constant threats against aid workers in this region, make this a difficult operation, requiring us to coordinate all our movements ahead of time and deliver food under military escort. But it's critical that these people continue to receive our help."
Earlier this month, an attack on Padibe camp, 25 kilometers north of Kitgum town, and host to 30,000 internally displaced persons, resulted in 12 people being killed, 40 people being injured, and 400 homes being burned to the ground.
Pabo and Amuru camps in Gulu district, which together host some 65,000 displaced people, have been attacked five times over the past six weeks. WFP staff on the ground have reported that over 20 people were killed in the attacks, several women and children abducted, food stores burned, and countless homes destroyed by rebel militias. The violence is believed to have been carried out by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a fundamentalist rebel group that has been operating in the region for the past 13 years.
WFP is currently feeding in Uganda over 550,000 internally displaced persons, nearly 80 percent of whom are living in the north of the country. The remainder are based in the southwestern district of Bundibudgyo, where over the past year, another rebel group, the Allied Democratic Defense Forces (ADF) have repeatedly attacked and looted villages driving over 100,000 people from their homes and farms. The agency also provides food to 153,000 mainly Sudanese refugees, living in the northern West Nile region.
Over the next two years, WFP will go beyond just providing emergency assistance and focus on setting up food-for-work and training programmes. These new projects will give not only those displaced by violence, but also communities vulnerable to food shortages, the skills and opportunities to enhance their agricultural production and economic development.
"We've learned that providing relief assistance alone is simply not enough," said Michael Jones, WFP's Deputy Country Director in Uganda. "We're already supporting projects that will help the people of this region develop more reliable or alternative food and water sources. That way if insecurity continues to disrupt their lives, or natural calamities like drought or floods strike, communities will be better equipped to cope on their own."
WFP will also initiate a new scheme to support tens of thousands of small farmers in the country. In an effort to boost the region's agricultural economy, the aid agency will purchase 50 percent of the estimated 83,000 metric tons of food needed for its two-year programme from small-scale farmers living in the north, who have little or no access to urban markets. WFP estimates these purchases will inject some $18 million into the local economy.
"By opening up new procurement depots in remote areas and bringing the markets closer to the smaller producer, we'll help the farmer sell his produce, in turn helping to eradicate poverty and reducing the need for emergency assistance," said Jones.
WFP will also be working with other aid agencies to encourage the formation of farm associations. Farmers will be trained in food storage, quality control and marketing so that they can negotiate more competitive prices.
In addition, WFP will partner with the Ugandan government to implement food-for-work projects aimed at strengthening rural infrastructure and improving overall food security in the north. These include: excavation of reservoirs and shallow wells; the construction of dams, roads and storage facilities; the establishment of school farms and support to women's associations involved in agro-forestry, poultry-raising and production of low-cost water pumps.