- The conflict in northern and eastern Uganda is producing ever more internally displaced people, fleeing attacks from the cruel rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Finally, however, international aid efforts to the region are increasing.
LRA attacks on civilians have become a daily event in northern and eastern Uganda during the last months. At least 1.6 million people have been displaced by the fighting in the area and the humanitarian crisis here has taken on "dramatic" scales.
The number of people in need has doubled in the past year and 80 percent of the internally displaced are children and women. Most live in dire conditions in resettlement camps set up and protected by government troops. Agricultural works are mostly made impossible by LRA attacks on everybody moving outside the camps.
- Every day in northern Uganda, children wake up to the debilitating impact of displacement and poverty, not knowing if that day will bring with it violence and abuse that can scar or even end their lives, says Martin Mogwanja, the Uganda Representative of the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Mr Mogwanja refers to those displaced by the conflict with the rebel LRA, a rebel group with no other cause than fighting the government by causing terror among the civilian population. Ugandan authorities and UN agencies during this year have increasingly appealed for international aid to hit back against the LRA and to assist the growing number of displaced people.
While the international community has recognised Uganda's need to fight the LRA rebels - or terrorists, as they increasingly are called - military aid to the government has been increased. Kampala however can show to few positive results in the battlefield.
So far, the humanitarian aid appeals for Uganda's displaced people have mostly been ignored by the international community. Therefore, UNICEF showed more than grateful as the Italian government this week announced a US$ 625,000 contribution to the agency's "expanded and accelerated response campaign" in northern Uganda.
The UN agency's campaign here is to focus on immunisation and hygiene education, tracing and resettling unaccompanied children, returning abducted children to their home communities, and procuring additional emergency shelter and household items in the conflict-affected districts.
- A commitment to provide the basic needs of children by the international community, such as the one being demonstrated by Italy, is required now more than ever, stated UNICEF's Mr Mogwanja. Priority actions for the remaining months of 2004 included expanding the assistance for vulnerable and separated children in the camps, he explained.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is still struggling to meet the food requirements for the large number of displaced people in the region. According to the last WFP update on its operations in Uganda, the humanitarian situation in northern Uganda "remains worrisome."
Also the unusually dry weather conditions in Uganda this year raise concerns over a lessened national ability to feed the displaced population. "The ability to complement food aid to 1.6 million internally displaced persons and 145,000 refugees will be severely curtailed if dry conditions persist in August and September 2004," WFP said. An additional 1 million people are at risk in Uganda's drought-prone Karamoja region, the agency added.
WFP already faces a shortfall of some 34,000 tonnes of food commodities from August through December 2004. The food agency further faces a funding gap of US$ 18 million, falling short of the required amount to maintain a normal food pipeline necessary to continue providing relief assistance to the over 1.6 million beneficiaries, only in northern Uganda.
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