“I’m pleased to see just how understanding and generous people are…”
The situation in countries such as Jemen, Somalia and Uganda is intensifying with the population facing acute shortages of water and food. We spoke to Kerstin Grimm from the DRK (German Red Cross). Stationed in Uganda, she took some time out to give us some impressions of her work there…
The causes of the severe food shortages in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Mozambique and Uganda are different in each case. Could you give us an overview of the situation?
To start with, the climate phenomenon known as El Niño led to extreme weather conditions in 2016, namely heat and drought. The rainy season simply didn’t arrive in many parts of East Africa, whereas in Mozambique and Uganda, crops were destroyed by regional floods.
What’s more, the already troubling situation in crisis-hit countries, where there are armed conflicts, such as South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, is worsening. Farmers there are fleeing for their lives and leaving their fields behind. Lastly, there are also political reasons, for example the Government of South Sudan is trying to effectively starve out rebellious ethnic groups and regions in the north.
Photo: Gero Breloer/DRK.
What, specifically, is causing the famine in northern Uganda and what are the consequences?
The northern and north-eastern parts of Uganda are the poorest regions in the country. In many areas, arable farming opportunities are few and far between and people predominantly live off livestock farming. There is one rainy season a year, which is vital for people to be able to maintain the traditional grazing areas for keeping livestock. After two almost non-existent rainy seasons, the simple fact is that not enough is growing any more. The livestock farmers wander in search of feed to other areas, sometimes regions where arable farming is predominant but which have also been affected by the shortage or complete lack of rainfall.
Add to this the large numbers of refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The situation for (previously) internally displaced persons in the north east, who are currently in the process of being resettled, is also particularly precarious. They have minimal resources and practically no access to public services, such as health care centers, schools and trading centers. Lastly, there are also livestock breeders from Kenya and South Sudan, who drive their herds over the border into north-eastern Uganda in search of pastures.
The main consequences are famine and the resurgence of conflicts along ethnic borders and conflicts between livestock breeders and arable farmers over the scarce resources.
What type of local assistance is the German Red Cross providing?
We are providing assistance at various different levels and tailoring it to meet regional requirements. For example, in addition to helping secure water and sanitation infrastructures, and helping to improve health care and bolster food supplies, we are implementing specific measures to tackle existing conflicts and prevent new ones by training focal points in conflict management, running targeted campaigns in camps and organizing radio shows in which refugees and locals discuss their respective customs and traditions as well as their specific problems and experiences. Sports competitions organized as part of events to celebrate the International Day of Peace and World Refugee Day are a great way to bring people together. They also allow participants to “let off some steam” without being aggressive towards others.
Through some of our other measures we are ensuring water supplies, improving hygienic conditions and driving health education in order to improve the population’s health, resilience and resistance.
In terms of agriculture, we are implementing medium and long-term interventions, for example, we are training arable farmers in improved cultivation methods, distributing drought-resistant seeds, and providing people with access to water for themselves and for agriculture by drilling wells, etc. We are also implementing other income-generating measures, for example offering support on how to market your own products in order for people to create opportunities to make money and achieve long-term independence.
Lastly, we are working closely with the communities and local administrative bodies through our Ugandan sister organization, Uganda Redcross Society. The common goal is to prepare the population for natural disasters and prevent or at least minimize the consequences as well as strengthen the population in crisis situations.
Photo: Gero Breloer/DRK.
In addition to providing food supplies, what technical solutions are in place to deal with the challenges (water, electricity, equipment, etc.)?
The German Red Cross doesn’t actually distribute food supplies, but helps with the aforementioned long-term measures. Access to water for people, arable land and livestock is made possible through technical solutions, for example we dig deep wells, where possible, create small reservoirs and install rainwater collection systems.
Improved sanitary facilities, for example latrines and installations to allow people to regularly wash their hands, help to prevent people from becoming sick and prevent diseases from spreading. We also support these measures through hygiene training.
In close cooperation with local Ugandan competent agriculture authorities, for example, we are supporting the identification and introduction of particularly resistant types of seeds and training in customized handling and storage of food reserves and seeds in order to minimize crop and stock losses.
In addition to food supplies, what technical solutions or resources are needed most urgently?
In addition to the aforementioned types of water points, the main priorities are to improve food security and create alternative forms of generating income. This primarily takes the form of agricultural production using customized seeds, equipment and irrigation systems as well as tailored advice and training. Furthermore, we need to ensure that there are adequate storage options and also identify alternative income opportunities for households and support the implementation thereof to diversify household income, thus varying the supply options. This help can take many different forms, which are determined together with the individual groups once a thorough analysis of the situation has been carried out. So far, we have supported activities such as beekeeping, chicken farming, goat farming, grain mills, and savings and credit initiatives. Many of the activities mentioned also require improvements in access to local markets. Handling of technical equipment needs to be regularly practiced and the required expertise must be regularly imparted. That’s why we develop trainers and create clear teaching materials adapted specifically to the requirements of participants.
What is the current security situation like in northern Uganda? Are there religious tensions, for example?
The security situation is currently not problematic. In general, religion is not playing a large role in terms of existing conflicts. However, at regional level, there are still violent conflicts relating to “traditional” livestock thefts between individual clans. If there are also other conflicts, these are usually caused due to shortages of resources such as grazing land and livestock.
How is the population in Uganda dealing with the large influxes of refugees?
I’m still pleased to see just how understanding and generous people are – even when faced with hardship. The Ugandan refugee policy is one of the most liberal in the world. Due to the huge influx that Uganda and in particular regions in the north and north-west of the country are having to absorb in a short period of time, the capacity limit is quickly being reached. Local conflicts over resources can no longer be ruled out, even though 30% of the total volume of all aid measures for the refugees in the camps and settlements is explicitly to be spent on support for Ugandan communities which are growing and are generally in need.
Photo: Gero Breloer/DRK.
Are there collaborative efforts (with social enterprises) locally in Uganda?
No, unfortunately not yet. We are of course, however, working with our sister organization, Uganda Redcross Society, and as such also have indirect contact with local authorities and other public institutions.
Could you explain why media coverage of this famine is so low?
There are currently several crisis hotspots around the world all competing for media coverage, for example the civil war in Syria, which is now entering its seventh year and is also one of the largest humanitarian disasters since the end of World War II, or the battles in northern Iraq resulting in hundreds of thousands of refugees. Also, the famine in the Horn of Africa has, to a certain degree, been caused for different reasons in the relevant countries concerned, which has made reporting difficult.
Is the famine there also linked to drought/water shortage?
Drought and water shortage are definitely decisive causes of famine. You can find detailed information on the development of the current threatening case of famine on the website of the German Red Cross. https://www.drk.de/hilfe-weltweit/was-wir-tun/hungersnot/