Uganda’s economy is growing at an impressive rate-over 5 per cent of GDP. But this has not translated in reducing the number of people who go to bed hungry every night, writes Saturday Monitor’s Evelyn Lirri.
In the far-flung village of Nabuganyi in Kayunga District, Ms Joan Editore is picking wild edible leaves that have overtime grown in her garden. These leaves will be her food for the day.
The 45-year-old mother of eight is jobless and makes a living out of odd jobs like digging in someone else’ garden, earning averagely Shs3,000 a day. But this kind of job doesn’t come every day and so she has to struggle to feed her family.
“When I don’t get work, my children have to go to bed hungry and it’s very painful,” she said in an interview with Saturday Monitor.
Ms Editore lives in a one roomed dilapidated mud and wattle house which needs repair. But without food to eat, repairing this house is one of her least priorities, at least for now.
Her predicament is replicated in several parts around the country where hunger still haunts millions of people, according to a new global hunger index by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The index rates Uganda at 40th position out of 84 most-hunger prone countries in the world. It reveals that despite efforts to improve food security, the hunger situation in the country remains “serious.”
While development experts say economic progress and hunger levels tend to be inversely correlated, it is hard to reconcile this scenario with the fact that Uganda’s economy has been growing above the average of Sub Saharan Africa, yet this growth hasn’t translated in lowering hunger levels.
At least 31 per cent or nine million Ugandans still live on less than a dollar a day, according to official government statistics. The country has enjoyed a rapid economic growth over the past few years-with an average growth of five per cent of GDP, but as development expert Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba of Makerere University explains, many Ugandans are only living in the shadows of these impressive figures.
“Many of the ordinary Ugandans are unfortunately not identifying with this growth because the gap between the poor and the rich remains starkly huge,” said Prof. Nuwagaba.
“We must first address the inequality otherwise we shall continue see few people getting richer while the majority get poorer,” he said. Indeed Uganda’s 2010 scorecard on the Millennium Development Goals shows that even if there has been overall progress towards achieving goals like poverty, there is unevenness in how the benefits are being shared.
Levels of poverty are more than twice as high in rural areas than in urban areas, and poverty levels remain higher and have fallen less rapidly in the northern and eastern regions of the country,” reads part of the report.
The first MDG goal is to reduce the number of people living in poverty, but also halve those who suffer from extreme hunger. The scorecard shows that the incident of poverty is estimated to have increased by 2.6 per cent points as a result of higher food prices in 2008, with the northern region bearing the biggest burden of the food crisis. The 2010 Global Hunger Index rated 84 countries on the basis of three key indicators-the number of people who are calorie deficient, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and child mortality rate.
About 38 per cent of all Ugandan children under the age of five are stunted. Another six percent are wasted, meaning they have low weight for their height while 16 percent are under weight-meaning that they have low weight for their age.
The report shows that there has been significant improvement in trying to reduce the number of hungry people, with the hunger index dropping from19.1 points in 1990, to 15.0 in 2010, but challenges remain. The biggest contributor to the global score is child under nutrition, which accounts for almost half of the score.
“To improve their scores, many countries must accelerate progress in reducing child malnutrition. Considerable research shows that the window of opportunity for improving nutrition spans from conception to age two. After age two, the negative effects of under nutrition is largely irreversible,” said Ms Marie Ruel, the director of IFPRI’s Poverty, Health and Nutrition division and co-author of the report.
In many sub Saharan African countries including Uganda, the index is driven by low government effectiveness, conflict, political instability, and high rates of HIV/Aids-factors which can lead to high child mortality and a high proportion of people who cannot meet their calorie requirements.
According to the index, nine out of the 10 countries facing the worst levels of hunger are in Sub Saharan Africa. These countries include the DR Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Comoros and Madagascar.
Uganda’s hunger problem is not new. In 2009, scores of people died of hunger-related complications especially in parts of east and northern Uganda.
Experts point to a combination of factors including conflict, poor governance, poverty, failed government policies and programmes, as well as a changing climate and the continuing reliance of the country on nature as contributing to this problem.
Prof. Nuwagaba said Uganda’s hunger crisis is a product of a series of structural and policy failures. According to him, the emerging food markets in Kenya and southern Sudan, which offer higher prices for agricultural produce, coupled with low production, are creating negative effects on food security in several places where food was abundant.
“What we should be doing is to produce enough food for both home consumption and the market,” he said. But hunger has also been exacerbated by the high levels of poverty in the county as some families just don’t have the cash incomes to buy food from the market. For example, the latest Uganda Bureau of Statistics report on poverty and inequality in Uganda between 2002 and 2005 shows that poverty levels stand at 64.8 per cent in the north compared to 40 per cent in the eastern region, while in the western region, poverty levels are comparably lower at 19.3 percent.
To be able to meet the development goal of eradicating poverty by 2015, absolute poverty should reduce to 28 per cent. While the number of people living in abject poverty has actually fallen from 56 per cent in 1992 to about 31 per cent now, a fast growing population which has not been matched by an equal growth in food production threatens to outstrip this achievement.
Projections for the year 2000 to 2050 indicate that a growing population will increase pressure on the available land. At the current growth rate, population density, which is around 124 people per square kilometre, will reach 233 in 2025 and 438 in 2050.