Refugees appeal to govt for food aid, irrigation systems

Friday November 27 2020
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Refugees line up to fetch water at Ayilo II Refugee Settlement, Pakele Sub-county in Adjumani District on August 25. The refugees have asked government to provide them with irrigation schemes to boost agriculture production. PHOTO/BILL OKETCH

By Bill Oketch

Refugees, especially those at Bidibidi settlement camp in Yumbe District, have appealed to government to come up with a special intervention to allow them access to food relief and water for production.

The refugees say they cannot engage in meaningful food production on the land offered by the host community due to unfavourable hot weather.

Like is the case in many parts of the country, farmers in Yumbe mainly rely on rain-fed agriculture.

More than 285,000 refugees at Bidibidi are facing food shortage due to the deduction in food rations offered by the UN refugee agency.

“There are no beans in the last cycle of relief we are receiving. We request the Ministry of Water and Environment for an irrigation scheme to solve the problem of lack of food,” Mr Emmanuel Juma Omon, the Zone 5 welfare officer at Bidibidi refugee settlement, said on Tuesday.

The refugees made the request before the Water ministry permanent secretary, Mr Alfred Okot Okidi.

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Mr Okot Okidi was in the area to commission a piped water supply system constructed at Bidibidi by the government with support from other development partners.

Mr Omon said the irrigation system will improve agricultural production within the host community.

Food rations

Currently, the World Food Programme has cut food rations to more than 1.4 million vulnerable refugees in Uganda due to insufficient funds.

While announcing the 30 per cent reduction in relief food it distributes to refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda, the WFP also warned that further cuts could follow.  Four years ago, each vulnerable refugee fleeing to Uganda would be welcomed with 12kgs of maize flour, 4.2kgs of beans, 0.9 litres of cooking oil and 0.06kgs of salt. The food ration was expected to last for a month.

However, the situation has since changed as the agency said it is struggling with a shortfall of $137m (Shs506.9 billion) in funding it needs to cater for refugees in 2020 due to Covid-19.

“Currently, we receive 8.12Kgs of maize and 2.2kgs of beans and the reduction has affected cooking oil and salt as well,” Mr Omon told Daily Monitor.

“We have been told that because of the Covid-19, donors have not given money to support the refugees. Secondly, that since people have stayed for four years [at Bidibidi refugee settlement) they have learnt to be self-reliant,” he added.

Uganda recently suspended receiving new refugees to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Mr Okot Okidi, however asked the refugees not to lose hope as government is now moving away from its emergency response to refugees to foster development.

 “I would like to tell the people of Yumbe that you are not forgotten, we have quite a lot which is in the pipeline for you and this will be implemented. We also have projects that are going to benefit the people of Yumbe and West Nile in particular,” he said.

He added: “We see this place (Yumbe/West Nile) with the potential for agriculture but for agriculture to thrive, we need to harness the water.”

About water supply

The Bidibidi piped water supply system is part of a broader support programme for refugee settlements and host communities in northern Uganda (SPRS-UN) WASH component.

The overall intervention worth €4.9 million is financed by the European Union (EU) through EU Trust Fund. 

The EU has been supporting the development of piped water supply systems and faecal sludge treatment facilities in refugee settlements and host communities in the north.

The WASH Component of the intervention is being implemented by the Ministry of Water through the Water and Sanitation Development Facility – North.  Under this intervention, eight other piped water supply systems have been constructed.

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