Number of Internally Displaced Rises Three-Fold in 24 Months; Now Over 1.6 Million
KAMPALA, 25 May 2004 – Arriving for a four day visit to conflict troubled Uganda, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy called on both the Government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army to protect children, noting that the number of people displaced by the fighting has tripled in just the past 24 months.
“The world needs to wake up to the enormity of the crisis in northern Uganda,” Bellamy said upon arrival. “This is one of the most serious humanitarian emergencies in the world.” She noted that the number of people displaced by ongoing conflict in the country now tops 1.6 million.
“Many hundreds of thousands of children are living in conditions of fear and violence,” added Bellamy. “They are being denied their basic rights to health, protection and education. We need to renew our efforts to alleviate their suffering.”
Some 80 percent of the 1.6 million displaced people in northern Uganda are women and children. Homeless and struggling to survive, many are subjected to sexual violence and other forms of exploitation.
Terror in the North
Bellamy will travel to Lira District to meet children and families living in camps for the internally displaced, where UNICEF is providing shelter, water and sanitation facilities and helping construct temporary classrooms.
In Gulu District she will visit a reception centre for children formerly abducted by the LRA, where UNICEF is training local volunteers to provide psychosocial counselling. The LRA has abducted an estimated 12,000 children since June 2002. Bellamy called on the LRA to immediately release all remaining child soldiers and abductees.
Bellamy will also meet with children “night commuters” – up to 44,000 children who travel into towns from outlying areas at night to escape abduction or attack by the LRA. They are also vulnerable to sexual violence.
“The Government of Uganda has a responsibility to protect these children, and the rest of the world must play its part. So far the global community’s response has been woefully inadequate,” added Bellamy. “ Governments to date have pledged just 20% of this year's U.N. appeal for $127 million in humanitarian aid for the region.”
Progress in the south
During her visit, her first to Uganda since 2001, Bellamy will also observe UNICEF-supported community-level programmes relating to education and HIV/AIDS prevention in Mbarara District in the southwest. She will visit primary schools where girls have formed clubs, called Girls Education Movement (GEM) clubs, to improve their status and participation in school life. Ms. Bellamy launched the GEM clubs in August 2001 with President Yoweri Museveni.
“The Government and the people of Uganda deserve praise for making progress toward Universal Primary Education, substantially increasing enrolment, and also for their success in tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Such successes can only be maintained in a climate of peace and security for all Ugandans.” Bellamy said.
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For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.