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WFP Appeals for Food Aid in Uganda - 2004-05-14

The World Food Program in Uganda is calling for $56 million in aid to avert widespread malnutrition among more than 1.5 million people displaced by the long-running civil war in the north.

The World Food Program's Uganda director, Ken Davis, says more than 80 percent of the population, or 1.6 million people, in three districts of northern Uganda live in camps designed to protect them from random and brutal attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group.

Mr. Davis says people living in these camps are in constant danger of being killed, kidnapped or maimed by the rebels, if they attempt to leave the camps to plant and harvest crops in the nearby fields.

He says the insecurity is having dire consequences for the population.

"Our food security assessments that we have just finished have confirmed that what people harvested in the last harvest in January is now exhausted, and people are at best able to provide 20 percent of the minimum nutritional requirements for survival for themselves," he said.

The LRA rebels have been attacking populations in northern Uganda for the past 18 years. It's leader, Joseph Kony, once said his group wants to rule Uganda according to the Biblical 10 Commandments.

Mr. Davis says the Ugandan army has been stepping up its efforts to capture the rebels and stop the attacks. But, he says, those efforts are not enough to enable people to plant their next harvest in September.

Mr. Davis says his agency may be forced to cut food rations next month, if donations are not forthcoming.

"We know what happened last time we didn't have food," said Ken Davis. "We saw skyrocketing malnutrition rates among young children, and that's when we had half the number of people displaced that we've got now."

Presidential spokesman Francis Onapito Ekomoloit says it is standard government policy to provide food aid to the north. He says the government plans to donate money again this year to buy food for people in the north.

Kampala has come under fire in recent weeks from groups such as Christian Aid and International Crisis Group, which say the government is failing to adequately protect northerners from rebel attacks.

Mr. Ekomoloit acknowledged ending the violence, disbanding the camps and sending people back home, so they can farm their own land is the best solution to the problem.

He says that's what the government is trying to do.

"The government is putting emphasis on ending the terrorism as soon as possible because that's the ultimate solution," he said.

Mr. Ekomoloit says, the government will supply camp dwellers with farm implements, seeds and armed protection so they can grow crops in the vicinity of their camps.