Drought drives hunger and conflict in Uganda
Elaine Maria is angry. “I’ve cultivated many fields, but they’ve been burnt by the sun.”
Children prepare food aid in Kotido, Uganda where eight in ten go hungry.
She lives in Karamoja, the semi-arid corner of Northern Uganda that borders Kenya and Sudan. Harvests have failed for two years, driving communities already on the brink into further desperation.
She used to have cows too, but raids from rival tribes means she has none left. Although raiding is a part of life for the semi-nomadic people in Karamoja, the conflict is becoming more wide spread as warriors search further a field for pasture for their cattle and greater raiding opportunities.
The village granaries are empty. Elaine Marie and the ten children under her care live like 80 percent of the population on international aid.
The children drink an mildly alcoholic brew of fermented sorghum called “Ebutia” all day. There is no milk left. They suffer from hunger, diarrhoea, malaria, and fever. Karamoja is the worse place to be a child in Uganda.
Life expectancy is 47 for men, early 50’s for women. Only 2 percent of the people use latrines, only 4 percent have healthcare, and schools lie empty as education is culturally frowned upon. buried a pen Elaine sends three of her children to school, but is laughed at by her neighbours.
Elders have only just been persuaded to dig up a pen that they buried in a shrine to signify “school” was outlawed. Boys are suppose to be herding cattle and girls risk lowering their “bride price” if they show too much learning.
The violence that once made Karamoja a no-go area is much better. The army moved in a couple of years ago and ambushes on roads stopped. The local administrator Oseku Richard says, “Before you had a 90 percent chance of being ambushed travelling from a to b, but now it’s about 10 percent.”
Still, the cattle raiding is ubiquitous. Large scale raids with warriors brandishing AK-47’s bought in Sudan, Kenya, or even from Soldiers in Uganda occur frequently. Nobody knows the death toll. Casualties are left in the bush rather than buried.
Akore John Bosco, who works for a peace ngo, says there has been a commercialization of the raiding and that has brought with it a breakdown of taboos and an increase in violence such as rape against women.
In three different villages, elders all blame the hunger on one thing. The army. They say when the military came in 2006 to disarm the then heavily-armed warriors, the bombing, shooting and killings made the local gods angry and made them bring drought and hunger.
Lokiru Aja Apaelimapus is a village elder. He hasn’t seen proper rain for two years. Rains are due this month but there is still no sign of them. That will mean they have to wait until next march or April. He says his only hope for survival is food aid.
Fr Bernard Phelan, the diocesan administrator of Kotido says, “The usual cycle of dry and wet years has changed. Trees have been cut down for firewood and desertification has increased. People cut down the trees to protect the cattle in kraals, only making the situation worse.”
Caritas is planning on launching a tree growing campaign. It is also working with the nomadic pastoralists. It’s difficult, when people move frequently and far, often across borders. Nutrition, sanitation, and peace building at the community level have all had some success.
But that progress will be undermined is the climate in Karamoja continues to worsen. Scientists on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last September that the effects of global warming are already being felt in Africa.
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