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UN Makes Urgent Call for Food Aid to Uganda - 2003-07-30

The United Nations says food aid is urgently needed for more than 1.5 million people in northern and eastern Uganda in what the agency calls the worst humanitarian crisis in years.

The United Nations' World Food Program sent out an appeal Tuesday asking for $54 million to feed people in Uganda affected by violence and drought.

It estimates that some 100,000 tons of food are required between now and next March to assist 820 thousand people who fled their homes because of attacks by a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army. The World Food Program says another 800,000 drought victims and refugees also need urgent help.

The organization's spokesperson in Nairobi, Lara Melo, said people who live in makeshift camps that were set up as to protect them from rebel attacks are particularly malnourished. "We will be running out of food supplies or food commodities by September so we do sincerely hope that the donor community will come forward to help us continue providing assistance to these populations," she said.

Ms. Melo said rebel attacks have increased and expanded into new areas over the past year. She said people cannot go out into the fields to plow or harvest because of fears that they could be abducted or killed.

The threat of rebel attacks has also hindered the delivery of food aid. Ms. Melo says that, despite what she calls good cooperation with Ugandan troops who act as escorts, there are times the U.N. relief workers can not get to places they need to go. She estimates that the World Food Program is not able to reach about 150,000 people because of the lack of security.

Ugandan army spokesman Shaban Bantariza said WFP's staff and vehicles have been safe more than 95 percent of the time.

But, he said the Ugandan army can not provide protection to farmers and other villagers, and that is why people live in the protected camps. "You cannot have soldiers in every village, on every home, on every homestead. And therefore they would be prone to abductions," he said.

Mr. Bantariza said the Ugandan army wants the WFP and other humanitarian agencies to continue their work in northern Uganda.