Teso: His hope to receive food from a leading opposition party recently ended in despair.
Mr Idris Vunali, who was injured in the fracas, remains crippled from fractures he sustained on his legs on the fateful day when police blocked food distribution by the Forum for Democratic Change party in Toroma, Katakwi District.
Mr Vunali is among thousands of people struggling in Teso and Karamoja sub-regions to have a meal following the soaring food crisis due to prolonged drought.
As such, prices of cereals and local staple food have skyrocketed much to the disadvantage of majority poor.
Ms Tino Achom, whose husband was injured in the Toroma fracas, told Daily Monitor that they have struggled since the start of this year to have a meal on table. “My partner got crippled recently when food destined for us was blocked from being distributed. I now remain the sole provider for the family,” Ms Achom said.
The tales of food crisis are even much dire in Karamoja, where remains of dead animals in the parched grazing fields are a common sight as result of dried up valley dams and shortage of pasture.
Animals in Karamoja form the economic fabric and also supplement the domestic food indices for majority of Karimojong families.
Though most often government intervention has been swift, one being the recent donation of food relief a week ago in Katakwi District and Karamoja in early February, smearing discomfort among residents over the small relief rations has docked the noble image of government among the starving as lukewarm.
Mr Raymond Odeke, a chairperson of one of the sub-counties in Katakwi District, said his entire sub-county received only about 20 bags of food relief which was distributed, with each parish hardly getting a bag of posho.
“We appreciate but the situation on the ground is dire, families are going without meals, the most vulnerable being children and elders,” he said.
Mr Odeke added that the situation has been made worse as the prices of animals have dwindled, and yet this is the only solution to find money to buy some of the little food on the market.
“If the rains don’t return to enable the wild leafy edible greens to sprout for the people to feed on as a short-term intervention, the magnitude of starvation will worsen,” he says.
Mr James Emong, the chairperson of Magoro Sub-county in Katakwi District, says it is not only the people that the drought has affected but animals too. “It’s not a crisis for people only, even animals don’t have sufficient water and pasture to feed on,” he said, adding that in the event the rains return, government should provide farmers with seeds since nothing has been saved for planting.
In Amuria District, out of accumulated anger and frustration, Ms Agnes Apila, a mother of four in Abia village, Kuju Sub-county, said she contemplated committing suicide on Monday after her husband allegedly left her to bear the burden of fending for the children alone. This, according to the Amuria District chairperson, Mr Robert Erisat Okitoi, shows the hopelessness among the families.
He named the most affected sub-counties as Kapelebyong, Obalanga, Asamuk, and Orungo.
“At this rate, you get to see the desperation among the people. With a kilo of posh now selling at Shs3,000, rich at Shs5,000, a basin of dry cassava chips at Shs25,000, only a few families with members earning a salary can afford this,” he said.
In Karamoja sub-region, it’s a two-fold situation. Turukana pastoralists wonder into Karamoja in search of food and pasture while the starving Karimojong cross into Kenya in search of the same items.
According to the chairperson of Loyoro Sub-county, Kaabong District, at least 13 people have died due to hunger-related complications, while about 700 have crossed to Kenya and are now living at Kakuma camp.
Mr Kalisto Lomuria, the head teacher of Loanayona Primary School in Loyoro Sub-county, says the enrolment in his school has drastically fallen from 510 pupils to 100 pupils. “Parents have migrated with their children to mine gold in other places, while others have gone to Kenya in search of food and this has affected school enrolment,” he stated.
Ms Christine Nakwang, the Kaabong District Woman Member of Parliament, has called on government to institute robust intervention measures.
“The situation is has been made worse because even the wild fruits which used to supplement on our people’s diet, have also withered away,” she said.
Mr Alex Chelimo, the Amudat District chief administrative officer, said the drought has had a heavy toll on herders as their animals, which are their only source of livelihood, are dying due to starvation.
In Serere District, Mr Colins Omoen, the chairperson of fishing communities on Lake Kyoga, says there has been an influx of people from other parts of Teso who have also decided to try their luck at fishing.
“The influx is straining the lake, but since it is the only way of surviving the crisis there is no way out,” he adds.
Mr Paul Ewidu, chairperson of Bugondo Sub-county in Serere District, said they it is now only God to decide their fate. “Our request to Prime Minister to respond to the crisis here has not been answered,” he said.
The State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Mr Musa Ecweru, said besides giving food rations to the hungry population, long term solutions to curtail the drought, such as desilting valleys dams, restoring defunct irrigation schemes and setting up many others, are some of the issues Cabinet is considering.
“I want to state that government is committed to help the starving population in Teso and Karamoja sub-regions,” he said, adding that in the meantime, besides the food relief, his ministry has teamed up with the Ministry of Agriculture to provide seeds to farmers as soon as the rains return.