UGANDA: Funding shortfall worries agencies, government

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Humanitarian activities in northern Uganda, which is emerging from more than two decades of civil war, are being curtailed because of a decline in funding and rising costs, aid agencies and a government minister have warned.

"Although the big donors, including the United States and Britain, have continued to support us, there has been a marked scaling down in their humanitarian response to us because they presume that we are no longer having a problem," Musa Ecweru, Uganda's minister in charge of disaster preparedness and refugees, told IRIN on 2 May.

He added that the government was likely to have to divert funds earmarked for development projects in order to ensure food security for the most vulnerable.

"We all should not allow the situation to degenerate into anarchy because food is a critical element of survival," he said. "The United Nations should be supported and for us as government, we shall do our best."

Ecweru added: "We are strained to breaking point. In Karamoja, where 700,000 people need relief this year, we used to intervene every five years, then it became every two years, now it appears it will be every year. Meanwhile [in the war-ravaged northwest] 940,000 internally displaced persons still need relief even with much better access to farming land now. The number is expected to reduce over time."

The rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), active since the late 1980s, is engaged in peace talks with the Ugandan government. Although the LRA no longer has bases in northern Uganda, the region’s population still has enormous humanitarian needs.

Meanwhile, the northeastern Karamoja region is in the throes of a food crisis that has left almost the entire population dependent on outside assistance.

Just 21 percent of the funds sought by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, through the Consolidated Appeal Process, have been forthcoming, about half the proportion provided by the same time in 2007.

"Out of the 58 million dollars that the agency appealed for in December (2007), only 11.6 million has been received,” UNICEF Spokesman Chulho Hyun said.

”Some of the major areas of the appeal, including water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS, have not received a single response. For those that have been funded, the funding has been below half of what is required," he added.

Hyun noted that northern Uganda was now in a post-conflict recovery” phase, buoyed by the peace talks with the LRA.

"With this momentum that has been generated, we want to make the message clear," Hyun said.

"If the international community is serious about investing in a stable and secure northern Uganda, the intervention should continue to give the people of northern Uganda a fighting chance to claim back a sense of normalcy in their life. We have to make the transition and if we fail, this will be a lost opportunity."

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) says a funding shortfall has forced it to interrupt some of its programmes in Uganda, including mother-and-child health and nutrition.

School-feeding and HIV/AIDS programmes are also expected to be suspended in coming months due to lack of resources," Tesema Negash, WFP country director, said.

"The programmes are emergency initiatives, social safety nets. Now more than ever, we need them."

During the appeal to donors, WFP sought $135 million to see it through 2008.

"With the increased food and fuel cost, plus Karamoja where the crisis is much bigger than was anticipated, WFP Uganda now needs $180 million," Negash said. "For the next three years [2008-2010], there will an additional $24 million needed annually because of rising food prices. WFP's budget for the three years was 378 million. Now it is US$451 million.”

He added: "We have received an estimated $29 million in donations. We are extremely grateful, but we need more support in order to curb malnutrition and sufficiently prevent deaths of young children."