The top United Nations humanitarian official today witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, some of whom are still in camps more than three years after an end to vicious fighting with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.
“Humanitarian, recovery and development actors must redouble their commitment to working with the Government and people of Uganda to help the most vulnerable members of the displaced population return to their homes, and to ensure that those who have already returned have the basic services they need,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said in Pader district in the Acholi region.
“Since my first trip here in May 2007, there has been a dramatic improvement in the situation,” he added, noting that 85 per cent of the camp population across the Acholi region has now returned to their original homes. “However, some areas still lack the basics of clean water, and access to health and educational facilities, to make returns fully sustainable.”
Mr. Holmes, who will attend an African Union (AU) Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and IDPs during his four-day visit to Uganda, stressed that development efforts needed to be stepped up as emergency relief needs lessen.
“Meanwhile most of the 15 per cent remaining in camps are particularly vulnerable – widows, the elderly and disabled, child-headed households and those suffering from HIV/AIDS,” he said. “We must do more to help them too regain an independent life outside the camp.”
Meeting with displaced and host communities in the Geregere and Omot IDP camps, as well as representatives of regional and local government and UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the area, Mr. Holmes heard from a number of extremely vulnerable individuals about the difficulties impeding their return.
Among the chief reasons were age and disability, which prevented them from building shelters or farming, as well as illness and disease. Lack of access to anti-retroviral medications in some health centres means that those living with HIV/AIDS cannot access treatment outside the camps. Others face difficult disputes over land rights and ownership and are unable to use the land for production until the cases are settled.
The LRA, which terrorized northern Uganda for two decades, has been accused of committing atrocities including mutilations and the recruitment of child soldiers.
On Friday, Mr. Holmes is expected to visit the Karamoja region in the northeast, one of the most under-developed and marginalized regions of the country, exemplifying the complex interaction between the effects of climate change, and more traditional humanitarian and development issues.