Life is precious. That is a universal notion supposed to be applied universally. In Gulu District, however, many residents have rendered this notion meaningless in the recent past.
Koro Sub-county, for instance, has for the past six months been in the news as a suicide hot spot. Reports show that close to 21 people have died this year alone in Koro Sub-county alone and many cases continue to be reported despite recent efforts to curb it.
Last week, 50-year-old Santo Adiri of Abole Village reportedly drank poison after a disagreement with his wife. Adiri had wanted to sell their maize in order to buy pigs and use part of the money for drinking alcohol, a move his wife objected.
In another case last month, 32- year-old Christopher Opiro of Abwoch Village in Koch-Ongako Sub- County, hanged himself in his house after disagreeing with his wife Beatrice Acen over who should tend to their goats.
Another resident, Janet Apiyo, took poison when her husband bought sofa sets for the co-wife only. Gulu District vice chairperson Isaac Newton Ojok puts the number of people who have committed suicide in Gulu at close to 42 this year alone, with Koro accounting for 21, Paicho Sub-county, 9, and Ongako Sub-County at 13.
So what is driving up the suicide rates?
Police and authorities attribute most of the cases to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, land dispute and domestic violence. Regional Police Spokesman Johnson Kilama said they receive about three cases of such nature weekly.
“We appeal to the public to be vigilant for suicide signs. We will also embark on community policing to counsel people on dispute resolution mechanisms.”
Post war effect
The officer in charge of criminal investigations at Gulu Central police station, Mr Patrick Asubo, attributes the rising cause of suicides to alcoholism.
Despite several calls from leaders in the region for a fully-fledged psychiatric hospital given the effect and impact of the two-decade war that ended six years ago, the government response has been slow.
The only non-governmental organisation operating in the region, the Psychosocial Trauma Organisation that is working with Gulu Hospital and other health centres in Acholi sub-region, say they lack funds to offer the needed services.
Mr Sam Rapid Okuni, a psychiatric clinical officer with the organisation, said the rising suicide cases is due to poverty. He said trauma resulting from gruesome killings witnessed by residents is also another possible cause of suicides.
“Alcoholism easily ignites such thoughts and memories,” said Mr Okuni. Mr Santos Uhuru, the Koro Sub-county chairperson, blames the increase in suicide cases on social trauma. He explains that many people have been affected by Joseph Kony-led insurgency.
Mr Uhuru says the social disorder left by the war makes some people prefer to end their lives with the hope of escaping misery.
The regional police surgeon, Dr Charles Madrama, said scholars attribute about 20 per cent of suicide cases to alcohol. He said the cases in Gulu are mainly fueled by alcohol.
As the suicide cases continue rising, local leaders are still scratching their heads on what should be done after recent attempts proved fruitless.
Just two weeks ago, religious leaders, led by Acholi District Khadi Sheikh Musa Khelil, led deliverance prayers in Koro Sub-County over the suicide cases.
Also in August, a traditional cleansing ceremony was held in Abole Village and one of the Non-Governmental Organisations recently indicated willingness to fund additional cleansing ceremonies.