Uganda: ICRC operations in 2004
31-12-2004 Operational Update
Northern Uganda has endured 18 years of internal armed conflict, leading to the displacement of about 1.6 million people. The displaced live in IDP camps where they face acute water shortages, diseases like cholera, HIV/Aids, malaria and chronic hunger. They also suffer from uncertainty about their future, despite an ongoing peace process.
The desperate humanitarian situation forced the ICRC to gradually resume operations in Northern Uganda in 2004, steadily increasing its deployment in the field. The following is an overview of ICRC activities during the year.
During 2004, the ICRC assisted more than 220,000 displaced people representing over 42,000 households in the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Apac. The ICRC is setting up a third operational base in Pader.
All ICRC activities are coordinated with the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) and other humanitarian organisations.
Between July and September, almost 24,000 households (approximately 120,000 people) in six selected IDP camps of Kitgum District - Mucwini, Labuje, Kitgum Matidi, Lagoro, Akwang and Padibe received essential household items from the ICRC.
Essential household items included a standard package per family that included 3 blankets, one jerrycan, 1 bucket, 1.6 kg of soap, 2 cooking pots, 5 aluminium cups and 5 aluminium plates.
Overall, 85% of the camps'populations have access to nearby land and are able to perform agricultural work. Therefore, vegetable seeds and hoes have been distributed to this group, while more than 3,500 families identified as being the most vulnerable (15% of the IDPs) received micro-economic parcels. Between August and December there were five distribution rounds of these parcels. E ach parcel contains 1 kg of sugar, 1 kg of salt and 1.6kg of soap per family.
Following outbreaks of fire, tarpaulins and essential household items were distributed to 44 families in Kitgum Matidi, 10 families in Amida, 260 families in Orom and Nam Okora IDP camps. Fires in Gulu District's Parabongo, Cwero, Coo pe, Amuru and Lugore camps also necessitated similar emergency supplies for 178 families, and to 77 families in Pader District's Atanga camp.
In September 2004, essential household items were distributed to more than 77,000 people (around 15,500 families) living in various camps for the displaced in the Gulu District.
Water and sanitation
Safe water access still poses major challenges. The aim is to increase safe water availability to the internationally recommended average of between 15 and 20 litres per person each day, from the currently inadequate figure of 2 to 3 litres.
The ICRC has so far drilled six new boreholes and repaired a number of existing ones. It has also improved the protection of other water sources like shallow wells. The programme is ongoing, with efforts also to improve human waste disposal through the construction of traditional pit latrines
Poor sanitary conditions led to a cholera outbreak at Akilok camp in November 2004. Working with the URCS, the ICRC quickly responded by disinfecting and chlorinating water sources.
Malaria is still the leading cause of death. This is compounded by other diseases and il lnesses such as HIV/Aids, diarrhoea, intestinal worm infections, acute respiratory infections and skin disorders. Hospitals are overcrowded and there is a shortage of health personnel.
Support for health facilities consisted mainly of the supply and transportation of urgently required intravenous fluids, injection equipment, gloves, plaster of Paris, dressings, suture material, antigens, vaccines, refrigerators and gas cylinders.
The evacuation of critical patients from peripheral health centres to the main hospitals also continued.
The ICRC is supplementing the efforts of Uganda's overstretched Ministry of Health by supporting 2 hospitals in Kitgum, 3 hospitals in Gulu and 1 hospital in Pader. Primary health centres in the camps receive separate support.
The government has granted the ICRC access to civilian and military places of detention.
Regular visits in the last quarter of the year were made to 48 such facilities to monitor the treatment of detainees and their living conditions. At the same time, the ICRC has entered into a confidential dialogue with the authorities aimed at improving detention conditions.
More than 1,100 families benefited from the ICRC's family visit programme to places of detention. Over 1,500 Red Cross messages were collected from detainees, while more than 1,000 were distributed to detainees.
In collaboration with the Uganda Red Cross Society, the ICRC carried o ut fact-finding missions to the West Nile district, and areas of South-Western Uganda were visited in connection with the tracing programme.
Settlements in Masindi, Kabarole/Kyenjojo., Hoima/Kiboga, Arua/Yumbe and Mbarara were visited. 33 tracing requests were opened and 43 unaccompanied minors were registered.
In Northern Uganda's Acholi-speaking districts, thousands of children have been abducted into the rebel forces. Some have lost their families and are deeply traumatised. Many girls have been raped. The ICRC continues to gather information about them with a view to establishing how best they can be helped return to normal life.
Dissemination sessions about ICRC activities and the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law are underway. The army, police, universities, media houses and the NGO community are being targeted under a set programme. Efforts continue to reach the Lord's Resistance Army with the same message.
Financial and technical support to the Uganda Red Cross Society continued in order to boost the national society's emergency response capacity.