UGANDA: Phasing out food aid in the north
A returnee family in northern Uganda: Improved security has allowed returnees to resettle on their farms and resume productive agriculture - file photo
KAMPALA, 16 March 2009 (IRIN) - Improved security in northern Uganda has allowed returnees to resettle on their farms and resume productive agriculture, despite a recent drought that threatened the harvest, an official said.
"The mood all over is that people want to regain their dignity by producing their own food and not relying any more on WFP [UN World Food Programme] for survival," Musa Ecweru, State Minister for Disaster Preparedness, said.
"Though some areas in northern Uganda have achieved this, a dry spell has [prevented] others from getting there," he told IRIN. "Areas in northern and north-eastern Uganda including Karamoja and Teso are experiencing acute food shortages due to a drought."
An agreement, the minister said, had been reached with WFP to phase out general food distributions in the north.
WFP country director, Stanlake Samkange, said distributions for an estimated 214,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were being phased out.
"Since January, we have phased out nearly 66,000 IDPs in Pader District, more than 58,000 in Amuru, nearly 60,000 in Kitgum and over 27,000 in Gulu," Samkange said.
More former IDPs, he added, had managed to access their farmland and produce their own food. This had eased the pressure on food aid.
However, Ecweru said a recent dry spell had compromised the food-production potential of some returnees and some areas were still vulnerable to shocks.
Indeed, other authorities issued similar warnings. "General food distribution is no longer necessary, but they still need to continue their response to the most vulnerable people," Nobert Mao, Gulu District chairman, told IRIN.
Photo: Euan Denholm/IRIN
|A returnee prepares his land in northern Uganda: The Ugandan government and the UN World Food Programme have reached an agreement to phase out general food distributions in the regioon
"We think it is necessary [but] they need to do it in such a way that we avoid the withdrawal symptoms," he added. "Even a chain-smoker who wants to abandon his trade must be helped to achieve his or her intentions."
Samkange said the phase-out would be monitored to avoid a relapse.
"Global acute malnutrition [GAM] has decreased, and is now below 10 percent," he added. "We will support phased-out IDPs through recovery initiatives, including cash and vouchers, to help them rebuild their livelihoods."
Northern Uganda was, for two decades, the theatre of civil conflict pitting the Ugandan army against the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Thousands died while up to two million people were displaced from their homes and farms.
A peace agreement has yet to be signed between the two parties, despite a two-year-old parley in the Southern Sudanese capital, Juba, but the talks are credited for the current lull.
Over the years of war, the displaced remained dependent on aid from relief agencies. "Inter-agency assessments have shown that some of these people can now sufficiently feed their families and even sell some of their produce," Samkange said. "More IDPs will be phased out from general food distributions as conditions continue to improve."