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Aid or development in Uganda

The Karamoja area of north-eastern Uganda is one of the poorest. Natural disasters, violence, environmental degradation and extreme poverty have left many people in the region extremely vulnerable. And acute malnutrition rates reach emergency levels of 15 per cent of children in some places. The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) runs an outreach programme in Karamoja, which provides nutrition supplements for nearly 17,000 children.

The WFP has been active here for a long time. During the worst years of the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency, large numbers of displaced people turned to the WFP for their basic survival. When peace came in 2007, returning refugees struggled to rebuild their livelihoods and continued to rely on the WFP. Over 200 million dollars have been spent per year feeding the region’s 1.2 million people.

But recently, the WFP has come to believe that Karamoja is too dependent on food handouts. In a test concerning the effectiveness of development rather than aid, the 2011 aid budget has been cut to 90 million dollars and the bulk of the money is now being spent on long-term development projects. For example, the WFP is working to increase food production by supporting farmers. In cooperation with the Ugandan government, nearly 60 surface dams have been created, as well as vegetable, cereal and fruit farms covering nearly 1,900 acres. A ‘Purchase for Progress’ scheme has also been set up to help smallholders improve the quality of their crops and gain a higher price from traders. The WFP itself will also begin sourcing food from the region’s farmers.

However, an article by the BBC calls into question the new direction taken by the WFP in Karamoja. The BBC’s reporter, Humphrey Hawksley, reports on cases where the region’s children have been sent to beg on the streets of Kampala, because their families no longer receive food handouts. Children as young as two are to be found sitting on the pavements of the capital, where they beg for money. The BBC spoke to 13-year old Nachiru Ellen, who was begging with her younger brother and cousin. She said she had been taken out of school because of a lack of food in Karamoja. The children earned around 1 dollar a day to send back to their village of Lorikitai, from where as many as 60 children may have been sent to beg on the streets of Kampala.

The UN admits there are bound to be setbacks, which include a temporary hold-up in supplying school meals in the region. However, it is confident that through the various schemes to help new businesses and the planting of thousands of acres of crops, it is on track to develop the economy of the area. This is seen as being of more long-term help to the region’s people than continuing with food handouts. The Ugandan Country Director of the WFP says the program is trying to do three things – “saving lives of people who cannot provide their basic needs...[feeding] children who are malnourished, and.....helping able-bodied house heads to build community livelihood assets and better provide for their own families”. Many are watching this area of Uganda closely to see if this new focus on development rather than aid will work.

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