- In Uganda's troubled and arid northern region of Karamoja, local malnutrition rates are reported to reach over 20 percent. As a result, food aid agencies are stepping up the assistance to the Ugandan north.
Household food stocks are reported to remain low in Karamoja Region, where an April nutritional assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) found global malnutrition rates of 22.4 in Kotido District and 14 percent, in Moroto District.
As a result, the UN agency is stepping up its monthly "emergency food aid" distribution from 1,000 to 3,600 tons per month starting this month and during the next four months. This food aid is estimated to benefit 95,684 households, or over half a million persons.
Cereal prices in Karamoja continued to rise during April, averaging UShs 410 per kilogram of sorghum, about UShs 100 higher than in March 2003 and over two and half times higher than in April of a normal year, reports the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS). "Prices are likely to continue to rise during the "hunger period" of April to June as supplies diminish and demand increases," FEWS says.
To make up for diminished daily grain intake, households were reported to be complementing their diet with wild foods - vegetables and a few fruits - that have sprouted following onset of the rains. Food shortages since January however had increased malnutrition rates among the population of Karamoja, mainly the children and elderly.
However, also other parts of northern Uganda are experiencing food deficits. Parts of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader (Acholi sub-region), Apac and Lira (Lango sub-region) are now reported to move into a traditional "hunger period" - April to June - during which time household food stocks from the last harvest tend to run out.
This reduced food availability was exacerbated by continuing civil insecurity in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader, where the brutal Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have increasingly targeted communities and ambushed road traffic since the beginning of this year.
- The effects of this insecurity include population displacement; limited access to land to cultivate; and curtailed free travel on roads. The internally displaced persons, who number about 812,000 in Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Pader Districts, depend on WFP's food aid to meet a major proportion of their food needs, FEWS reports.
A lapse in the peace negotiations in March 2003 and a higher incidence of insecurity limited cultivation this season, increasing the possibility of more people facing the risk of food insecurity later in the year.
A high risk of attack on roads was thus hampering travel and humanitarian activities, which take place under armed escort. "In addition, traders are not able to deliver commodities from neighbouring districts, which could otherwise help to alleviate local food and non-food shortages," FEWS warns.
WFP is now planning to increase its food assistance to the internally displaced persons to meet 100 percent of their food needs. Generally, the northern pipeline serving the displaced and refugees was reported to be "well supplied until August 2003." More food would however be required after August, especially with the planned ration increase. WFP is now seeking donor support to cover this.
In other parts of Uganda, full establishment of the rains in April supported farmers' intensified cultivation activities. Commercial seed sources and seed supplies from the previous season's crop were reported to be normal, except in Karamoja, where last year's poor harvest limited available seed. Most of the crops in the country have been sown, FEWS reports.
Further, normal supplies and availability of pastures and water were reported in south-western Uganda's cattle keeping districts.
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