ADJUMANI, UGANDA —
This week, Uganda welcomes U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other high-level international guests and donors for the two day Refugee Solidarity Conference (Thursday 6/22 and Friday 6/23). The conference in Kampala hopes to raise $8 billion to support refugees in Uganda for the next four years.
At the border separating Uganda from South Sudan, exhausted women and children arrive daily, hungry and dehydrated. Aid workers give them fortified biscuits.
Uganda hosts 1.2 million refugees from at least five African countries. Nearly one million have fled the conflict in South Sudan, and most have arrived in the past year. The local food supply is stretched to the limit.
The U.N. World Food Program was forced to cut food rations to refugees last month, says WFP country representative El Khidir Daloum.
"Yes, we have been forced to reduce the distribution for the month of May by 50 percent, but that is mainly due to the physical availability of food and arrival of food in the country,” he said.
Funding is also inadequate.
The United Nations and 57 other aid organizations working in northern Uganda, appealed for $1.4 billion to provide food and shelter this year, but only 18 percent of the funds has been received.
Amnesty International researchers visited the refugee settlements in Uganda and Deputy Regional Director Michelle Kagari says the refugees have already suffered greatly.
"There is one woman who has nine children, her and her children witness their father being killed, not to mention the trauma of fleeing the Equatoria's," she said. When they arrived in Uganda, because there is no capacity for them to get additional support, she is now supposed to build a shelter herself, find food for the children, deal with the trauma of the children."
Uganda is known for its progressive approach to refugees, there are no refugee camps, but settlements where refugees build round mud huts and get small plots of land to farm. They are also allowed to work in Uganda.
But the massive influx from South Sudan, as many as 2,000 people a day during the past year, is taking a toll on the host communities.
Uganda is hosting this week’s Refugee Solidarity Summit in an urgent plea for help says Uganda State Minister for Refugees Musa Ecweru.
"A district that was supposed to host 300,000 people is now hosting 600 to 700,000 people. In that district, they are competing for trees that are used as fuel for energy," said Ecweru. "They are competing for drugs that are supposed to be used by the host communities in the health centers. ... So there are so many things that are under pressure, so we want the international community to support us and lift the pressure."
Food security is a particular concern given the hunger and famine in South Sudan and drought in East Africa.
At the Maaji refugee settlement 25-year-old Jennifer Fonne is eight months pregnant and struggling to have two meals a day.
“As you can see, children are crying here because of hunger, we are not getting anything to buy for our children food. As I have three children, but food is not enough for us. We are just eating green vegetables, but no proteins,” she said.
Back at he border, the scene is the same. More families arrive, sweating in the scorching heat, carrying their belongings.
The government says Uganda will not shut its doors to people in need, but the country cannot bear this burden alone.