600,000 drought-affected people to get food aid in northeast
"Karamoja already suffers from the highest levels of malnutrition in Uganda, and given the poor 2004 harvest we are greatly concerned about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people there who risk running out of food before the next harvest in September," said Ken Noah Davies, WFP's country director for Uganda.
He told IRIN that four sub-counties had been severely hit by the drought: Kalapata and Nyakwae in Kotido district, and Rupa and Nadunget in Moroto district.
WFP had started distributing food in those areas "in an effort to avert hunger and malnutrition, especially among children under five, school children, the elderly, and pregnant and lactating women."
Initial food distributions started last week.
Karamoja, which comprises Moroto, Kotido and Nakapiripirit districts, has been hit by drought every five years since 1980. A survey conducted in August 2004 by Uganda's health ministry and the UN Children's Fund showed that malnutrition rates in the region were higher than in rest of the country.
"[An] average malnutrition rate of 18.7 percent, and [a] mortality rate of 3.9 out of every 10,000 people per day are well above the rates found in other regions of the country, including camps for the internally displaced," the WFP statement said.
The agency said that its food aid projects would be carried out in health centres, and through adult education - both assets to the community in themselves.
It said primary school children would receive a nutritious meal in school, while a take-home ration would be provided to primary-school girls who managed to attend class at least 80 percent of the school days.
The drought-relief programme in Karamoja is part of WFP's countrywide relief-and-recovery operation, valued at US $263 million over three years. Currently, the agency requires an additional $54 million to maintain its full activities from May to December 2005.
WFP highlighted the Ugandan government's statistics from 2000 that showed that Karamoja had chronically low school-enrolment figures, high drop-out rates, low retention of pupils and high poverty levels.
"Only 6.8 percent of people over the age of 15 have completed primary education, compared to the national average of 25 percent," it said. "Only 18 percent of men and 6 percent of the women are literate, compared to national averages of 63 percent and 45 percent respectively."