People at risk as recovery in Northern Uganda fails to keep pace with returns

“It would be a tragedy to have spent two decades trying to remedy the humanitarian crisis in Northern Uganda only to abandon people when there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.”
Savio Carvalho
Oxfam GB Country Director
Published: 18 September 2008

Kampala Uganda: A new report from international agency Oxfam today warns that northern Uganda risks another humanitarian crisis unless adequate social and health services are urgently put in place to help people returning home following 20 years of conflict. The report finds that despite there being no peace settlement people are returning to their villages, many of which lack the basic health and water services to help them survive.

A transition is now under way from a United Nations-led emergency relief effort to a government-driven process of recovery creating new challenges and confusion among the UN, NGOs and humanitarian agencies working in Northern Uganda.

The report, From Emergency to Recovery: Rescuing Northern Uganda’s Transition, examines the return process, new challenges that are arising as a result of it, and efforts on the part of government and its partners to address the changing needs of the people of northern Uganda.

“Despite their immense suffering, the Acholi people have shown remarkable resilience and many are already farming their land and making efforts to reconstruct their lives. But for this reconstruction to be successful it must, as a matter of urgency, be underpinned by a coordinated, inclusive recovery strategy as well as adequate and timely donor funding,” said Savio Carvalho, Oxfam GB country director.

Oxfam found that conditions in return areas are often worse than in the camps, an indication that recovery programs have not been able to keep up with the pace of return.

The distinction between returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is being blurred, as those who have left the camps return periodically to access services unavailable in their villages, while camp residents often leave in the daytime to cultivate nearby farmland and return to the camps in the evenings. Not only does this make people’s lives more difficult, it also affects the efforts to deliver aid to them.

Many of the IDPs interviewed in this study mentioned the lack of services in return sites, in particular safe water, as a reason for delaying their departure from the camps. In many villages, for example, schools have not been rebuilt and classes are held in the open.

Poor social services in villages is already having an alarming impact: in the Lango sub-region, where almost all former IDPs had completed their return by the end of 2007, the returnee population suffered an increase in malnutrition and mortality as a result of insufficient food and reduced access to basic services.

Carvalho said, “The Government of Uganda supported by the international community needs to make a serious commitment to assisting the people of Northern Uganda  rebuild their lives. The UN must urgently articulate its transition strategy and use its long-standing global experience to coordinate humanitarian agencies working in Northern Uganda. It would be a tragedy to have spent two decades trying to remedy the humanitarian crisis in Northern Uganda only to abandon people when there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.”

The briefing paper, From Emergency to Recovery: Rescuing Northern Uganda’s Transition, is based upon interviews with representatives of central and local government, UN agencies, donor governments, and NGOs, and those displaced by the fighting. The views of the displaced were gathered through a series of focus group discussions held in four internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and transit sites.

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact:

Maria Tusingwire, Policy and Communications Coordinator, Oxfam GB Uganda
Tel: +256 772 710021
Email: mtusingwire@oxfam.org.uk