Carol Bellamy remarks:
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have seen many disturbing images during my time with UNICEF. But few of them are as shocking as the sight of the “night commuters” in northern Uganda whom I saw just two nights ago. As you know, these are the thousands of children – and we know that there are at least 44,000 -- who, for fear of abduction by the Lord’s Resistance Army, seek refuge every night in the towns of the north.
In the last two years, the numbers of Ugandans displaced by the fighting in that part of the country has trebled to 1.6 million people, 80 per cent of whom are children and women. HIV/AIDS is spreading in the north at an alarming rate. Basic literacy is in decline, and it was notable to me that far fewer children in the north can speak English than in other parts of the country. In the district of Gulu, where 90 per cent of the population has been forced from their homes by the conflict, less than 20 per cent of the people have access to effective healthcare.
Furthermore, UNICEF supports the care of around 700 children in Therapeutic Feeding Centres every month. Yet these are just the children we can reach because insecurity prevents our staff and our NGO partners from reaching more, and I am told that the true figure of children suffering from the most severe and deadly form of malnutrition is probably around 7,000 every month.
These figures, and these images, show that Uganda is home to one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. And I say that quite conscious of the great humanitarian crises that lie to the north in Sudan.
There are truly two Ugandas, both of which I have witnessed during my visit.
In one, innovative and courageous programmes are tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic head-on. In this same Uganda, Universal Primary Education (UPE) has been adopted as not just a right, but increasingly as a fact of life. Again, in this Uganda, the Girls Education Movement (GEM) is flowering with the willing participation of both girls and boys, who recognise that an educated girl will make educated choices about her future, and the future of her own family.
But in the other Uganda, after nearly two decades of conflict, each generation born is exposed to the worst afflictions that we can imagine. This generation has been forcibly recruited as child soldiers. This generation suffers abduction, rape, starvation, disease, displacement, injury and death. And those who have escaped this fate live in fear that they might well be next. So while Uganda continues to succeed as a development model for Africa, its open wound in the north threatens to jeopardise that very success.
UNICEF has committed itself to stemming the suffering with new funds, new programmes and a new presence in the heart of the conflict zone. I was pleased to open a UNICEF zonal office in Gulu this week, which we share with UN OCHA. For of course, we cannot do it alone. With our refreshed determination to act for the people of Uganda, we are calling on the Government of Uganda and the international community to bring new ideas, new action, new funding, and reinvigorated will to solve the problem of northern Uganda.
Uganda’s social and economic progress will not continue unless there is peace throughout the country. The plight of a million children in the north, directly affected by the conflict, is a matter of urgency for us as humanitarians, for the Government of Uganda which has direct responsibility for its people, and indeed for all of us as human beings.
UNICEF has had a long and deep commitment to Uganda, even through the trials of the past 40 years. Our mandate has never changed. We have always called for the protection and survival of all children when we have seen them threatened.
The collective failure of all responsible parties to succeed here is a stain on our humanity. This has been allowed to continue for too long.
For almost two decades, the Government of President Museveni has been UNICEF’s unfailing partner, and in talks with His Excellency this week, I was encouraged to hear renewed commitments to solve the problem of the north.
I will be leaving Uganda with deeply mixed feelings. On one hand I see the tremendous progress that has taken place in this most beautiful of countries. But on the other, I will be troubled by my memory of mothers in the north who love their children so much that they send them away from their own homes every night to seek safety and the protection that they are powerless to offer.
The current Government of Uganda-UNICEF Country Programme was initiated 1 January 2001 and will conclude 31 December 2005. Within the broader scope of the Country Programme, UNICEF’s accelerated humanitarian response works to support the populations affected by the conflict in the northern and eastern districts, in collaboration with district administrations, other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.