Uganda: building on current successes for long-term stability
Food and economic security have improved in Northern Uganda over the last three years. But much remains to be done. While witnessing some positive results from the ICRC and other humanitarian programmes, Peter Schamberger, the ICRC's outgoing coordinator for economic security for Uganda, cautions on the need to avoid complacency.
What is the current humanitarian situation in Uganda?
Since arriving here in late 2005, I have seen remarkable improvements as a result of the Juba peace process between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Uganda People's Defence Forces, but also to some degree owing to the concerted action of the humanitarian community.
Food insecurity is much reduced, such that the World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to reduce food rations to internally displaced persons'(IDP) camps to about 40 per cent in 2008, compared to 75 per cent in 2005.
There is an ever-increasing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have returned (or begun the process of returning) to their villages of origin. Thousands of others are still living in IDP camps, but enjoy an increased access to arable land.
The return/resettlement process is not homogeneous. Some mother camps are nearly empty, others remain with as many households as before the official decision to allow returns was taken. The return/resettlement process is a long one as a lot of factors come into account: fear of insecurity, less income opportunities are present in the new sites, lots of trips to the mother camps are needed to keep in touch with the portion of households who stayed, mainly children attending school and the most vulnerable. The main constraint faced by the households is lack of money for them to access basic needs. As a result, active members of a household are involved in various activities in different places and are not able to c oncentrate effort on agricultural production, which is the dominant livelihood strategy at a scale that may lead to self-sufficiency within the next two years.
The ICRC is facilitating the return process of the IDPs to their area of origin by striving to improve living conditions in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and Amuru. The ICRC has mostly been concerned with water and habitat, health, and economic security. Water provision in particular has increased dramatically. Generally people are now better able to cover at least part of their living requirements.
Since the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Ugandan government and the Lord's Resistance Army in August 2006, peace talks have been taking place. With the prospect of peace on the horizon, what is the ICRC's added value in this period of transition?
The people still need help on a very basic level. The ICRC, working with the Uganda Red Cross Society, has an important role to play. We have the structures in place, as well as strong long-term relationships with the Ugandan people. This enables us to maintain a watchful eye on the development of the humanitarian situation that might become more difficult as people move back to the areas from which they were displaced during the armed conflict.
Over the past year, the ICRC has combined its assistance approach with a more sustainable one. In 2005 and 2006, IDPs were living in camps and had very limited access to land, so the ICRC provided small quantities of staple food crop and vegetable seeds to improve availability of food and the quality of the diet. As the security situation improved in 2007 and people were able to access more land, the ICRC increased the quantities of staple crop seeds and tools to open the land. In March 2008, during the last major ICRC relief distribution in the North, about 71,000 households (about 400,000 people) at 111 sites (mother camps, transit sites and villages of origin) in Kitgum, Pader, Amuru and Gulu districts, received an agricultural package aimed at providing them an opportunity for income generation by means of a substantial amount of a food and cash crop (ground nuts) and an additional staple crop of their choice which could be either beans, rice or sesame for the second planting season. These beneficiaries, representing about 40% of the IDPs living in the four mentioned Acholi districts, also received basic hygiene material (soap, sanitary pads for women) and school kits.
The 2008 cash crop seed distribution was crucial for a majority of households. It was specifically crucial for the most vulnerable who could not save cash crop seeds and for those who are now in the process of resettling. From a recent ICRC review, seed was the most important item distributed by the ICRC in 2007, according to 100 per cent and 80 per cent respectively of men and women interviewed. This review shows that that on average productions are increasing and that households are in the process of re-building seed capital. Nevertheless, less than 20 per cent of households were able to produce enough to cover their annual cereal needs and make a surplus.
Most beneficiaries emphasized that they were able to save some seeds because of successive ICRC seed distributions that started in 2005. This would not have been possible after a one-off distribution.
The objective for the 2008 seed distribution is to increase household income generating potential through the provision of high market value seeds with the hope that households will be able to sell part of their produce at good value.
However, with many people still in the camps and only now starting to move out, they are facing challenges in re -establishing their livelihoods in places of return and therefore, humanitarian assistance will almost certainly be required for at least another two years, particularly for the most vulnerable, who will not benefit from traditional support mechanisms. These households will continue to require different types of support in the places they live.
How do you see the country evolving and the ICRC's role along with it?
Despite the improvement of the security situation in Northern Uganda, it will still take time and require concerted effort, by both the Ugandan government and the humanitarian community, to improve people’s livelihoods to a sustainable level.
A lot depends on the development initiatives of both the Government and development agencies. In addition, as 90 percent of the Acholi local economy is dependant on rain-fed small-scale farming, rain fall performance will affect either positively or negatively the outcome for the farmers in 2008.
According to the ICRC review, households are on the way to rebuilding a capital and as a result large-scale seeds distribution similar to those done by the ICRC in 2006 – 2008 will no longer be relevant in 2009.
New ICRC projects initiated in 2008, such as cash-for-work and income generating activities, will constitute the bulk of the economic security unit's activities for the future. These activities aim at enabling households to increase their land opening potential through a cash-for-work scheme, rehabilitating community assets such as roads, markets and springs and creating sustainable income opportunities by providing trade and agro devices to groups.
The cash-for-work (CFW) project is crucial for all recently returned/resettled households. Cash for work focusing on land clearing appears to be the most appropriate way to enable households to focus on the restoration of their agricultural production capacity. The ICRC plans to support 5,000 people through CFW in 2008.
At the end of my mission, I see a clear improvement, above all thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the very resilient Ugandan people, but also due to the concerted efforts of many actors, including the ICRC in a primary role.
There is no room for complacency however, and we must avoid discontinuing humanitarian assistance prematurely, to keep the Ugandan people from suffering a setback on their road to recovery and well-being.