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Uganda: humanitarian situation remains difficult

30-11-2004 Operational Update

The humanitarian situation in Uganda continues to cause concern despite a decrease in the level of the country's conflict since the launch of a recent peace initiative. In response to the increased humanitarian needs of those affected by the violence, the ICRC resumed field operations earlier this year.

The estimated number of people displaced by the 18-year conflict between government forces and fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has doubled to 1.6 million since the middle of 2003. The conflict has been marked by serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the widespread use of child soldiers by the LRA  

    

Uganda's internally displaced are living in more than 100 camps spread throughout the northern and eastern provinces of the country (Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and Lira). Security conditions in these areas are volatile and place severe constraints on the movements of humanitarian organizations and their ability to assist people in need.

One of the most pressing problems is the scarcity of water supplies. Most people have access to less than five litres of water per day rather than the internationally recommended norm of 15-20 litres per person per day. Sanitation is almost non-existent and poor hygiene conditions are contributing to an increased incidence of diarrhoea and scabies. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera are widespread.

 ICRC operations   

    

In view of the escalation of the conflict earlier this year and an assessment confirming the scale of the emergency in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Lira, Soroti, and Kaberamaido, the ICRC resumed its operations outside Kampala focusing on protecting and assisting the victims of the c onflict. An evaluation of the needs of people in Pader is continuing.

As a first priority, the ICRC is concentrating its activities on six camps for the displaced in the Kitgum district: Padibe, Mucwini, Akwang, Labuje, Kitgum Matidi and Lagoro. In addition, activities have been expanded into Gulu. Operations are carried out in close collaboration with the Ugandan Red Cross.

Between July and September, the ICRC distributed tarpaulins, cooking utensils and jerry cans to 120,000 people in the district of Kitgum. Those with access to farmland received seeds and hoes; those without were given soap, salt and sugar.

In Gulu, non-food items such as blankets, jerry cans, cooking pots, eating utensils and soap have been distributed and this action will benefit more than 70,000 people by the end of 2004.

ICRC specialists have carried out preliminary geographical surveys to support the rehabilitation of water and sanitation facilities in the camps identified as a priority. Existing boreholes will be repaired and new ones will be drilled at 20 sites that have now been identified. At the same time, specialists will construct 2,000 latrines and carry our disinfection and fumigation procedures.

Access to decent medical care for the increasing number of war-wounded and the sick remains precarious. Doctors are overwhelmed and the referral service is non-functional.

To alleviate the situation, the ICRC is continuing to support hospitals in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader with medical and non-medical supplies. At the end of August, delegates began to make regular visits to health centres in the six camps to support health personnel and assist with the transportation of patients referred to hospitals.

The ICRC and the Ugandan Red Cross are also working on the extension of their programme to reunite families separated by the conflict. In particular, a programme is being developed to support hundreds of children who were abducted by the LRA but are no longer in their hands. It is hoped that these children can be reunited with their families.

The ICRC also continues to visit those held in connection with the conflict and, since July 8, it has visited 32 places of detention in the northern districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Pader. Since the beginning of the year, more than 730 families have received financial support to visit detained relatives and more than 800 Red Cross messages have been exchanged between detainees and their families.

In terms of dissemination, a dialogue between the Uganda military and the ICRC has been re-opened and it is hoped that a significant programme to promote international humanitarian law will be launched. Courses and seminars in international humanitarian law are continuing among academics, students and the media.