A massive crop failure brought about by a long dry spell is causing serious concerns for food security in the Karamoja region of northeastern Uganda, where at least half a million people are now at risk.
Peter Lokeris, the Ugandan minister in charge of the Karamoja region, has warned of a severe famine in the region in the coming months, and urged the international community to support the government's efforts to supply relief food there.
According to Lokeris, crops had failed to mature in much of the Karamoja districts of Kotido and Moroto, due to sparse rains followed by a long dry spell. "We need to start planning and bring relief right now. We don't have to wait till they are weak," he told IRIN.
90 PERCENT CROP FAILURE
Reports from Karamoja indicate massive crop failure, particularly in the region's dry belt. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA), Karamoja has experienced up to 90 percent crop failure.
"Those who have been in the region for more than two decades are quoted saying that since the 1980s there has never been such a crop failure," OCHA said in its July/August humanitarian update for Uganda.
Of the half a million people affected by the current drought, three-quarters will have no food left in three months' time, while those unaffected so far will have exhausted their stock, according to Lokeris.
According to OCHA, the situation is especially "sad" in Dodoth, the largest, most populated and the remotest of all Karamoja counties, where locals are destroying their soils as they attempt to cultivate in the area's dry belt, notably Kaabong, Kathile, Loyoro and Kapedo. "Already gully erosion can be noticed everywhere, and there are reports of a village that was swept away due to soil erosion," the report stated.
A relatively reasonable harvest was realised in Karamoja's green belt, especially in Labwor and to some extent in the Karega and Nopore areas, the report added.
In the context of reducing the impact of drought in the region and enhancing the community's survival mechanisms, the OCHA report stressed the need to train pastoralist groups on ways of harvesting grass for storage and future use as cattle-feed in the dry season, rather than burning it.
"With the intense and prolonged dry season, cattle will need to be moved in search of pastures," the report said. "The trekking decreases and finally erodes the capacity of the cattle to maintain a good milk/meat/calf production [rate]. The livestock will only be able to cover their survival needs."
SITUATION WORSENED BY POVERTY
The situation in the region, which largely depends on livestock, is worsened by widespread poverty, according to OCHA.
"We are sending an inter-agency team to carry out a food assessment in the region, to find out how much food is in store, how much is left, and assess when they will next receive their rainfall," Martin Owuor, Uganda's assistant commissioner for disaster management, told IRIN.
According to Owuor, insecurity, which has been a major setback to development in the region, recently improved, especially following a disarmament exercise the Ugandan government has been carrying out there since December 2001. "There is a high UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Forces] presence in the region. Some weeks you don't hear anything. You may hear of one ambush or attack after some months," he said.
NEED FOR EDUCATION
The Karamojong warriors have since the 1970s often been accused of using guns in cattle-raids on neighbouring communities. Cattle-raiding is considered a traditional way of life in the region, where livestock, particularly cows, are seen as central to the Karamojong value system.
The Ugandan government had allowed the Karamojong to keep their weapons to protect themselves from cross-border attacks by neighbouring pastoralist groups in western Kenya and southern Sudan. However, it decided to disarm them after Karamojong warriors began attacking neighbouring districts, looting granaries, stealing cows and displacing thousands of people.
Lokeris argues that education should be the "entry point" for any meaningful development in Karamoja. A number of educational programmes designed to suit the pastoralist culture of the community were already targeting villages, he said.
"We are carrying out a lot of projects. We are using education to get rid of the bad practices," he said. "But education must be compatible with their way of life. We are targeting boys who have to herd livestock and girls who walk long distances to fetch water."
Besides providing education, the Ugandan government is working with NGOs on a number of projects touching on health, sanitation and agriculture.
Such strategies will, however, only be successful if they are unhindered by relief efforts, according to OCHA. "The Karamoja situation is dramatic, and needs a development strategy so that relief efforts do not continue to hinder development as has been the case in the past," OCHA said in its report.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.
Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.
We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.
Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian.
Get the latest humanitarian news, direct to your inbox
Sign up to receive our original, on-the-ground coverage that informs policymakers, practitioners, donors, and others who want to make the world more humane.
Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.