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Fires and disease threaten residents of overcrowded camps

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
The close proximity of huts like these in the Madi Opei camp, Kitgum District, allows fire to spread quickly.

NEW YORK, 10 February 2005 – In northern Uganda, overcrowded conditions in camps for people forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict are proving fatal for some residents. Because huts are built in extremely close proximity to one another and sanitary conditions are poor, fire and disease can spread rapidly – with deadly effect.

In total, approximately 1.4 million people who have been forced from their homes by the 19-year-long armed conflict are living in more than 200 camps.  Since mid-December 2004, 10 fires have broken out in camps in Gulu District. The fires have all been attributed to cramped living conditions, exacerbated by the current dry season. Even the smallest accidental spark can ignite a blaze.

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
Families in Bala Stock Farm camp, Lira District.

In late January 2005, fires in the Acet camp, in southwest Gulu, killed two children and one adult.  More than 4,000 huts were burned, causing a massive loss of personal property.  Latrine blocks were destroyed, and displaced people were forced out of their homes yet again; children had to sleep in temporary learning centres in the camp.

UNICEF and partners have been responding to the outbreaks of fire with immediate provision of blankets, tarpaulins, cooking utensils and other emergency shelter and household items.  A team is also advocating with local district governments for measures to help prevent the outbreak of fires in the camps.

One reason for the crowding of huts in camps is simple fear: residents prefer to build their huts in those areas of the camp where government troops can provide better protection against attacks by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  UNICEF is calling on the government to provide more protection for people living in the areas which spill over the camps’ original boundaries.

© UNICEF Uganda/2004/Hyun
A woman pumps water in Madi Opei camp, Kitgum District.

Crowding has other harmful effects as well. Congested conditions were the key reason behind a spate of cholera cases in Pabbo, the largest camp in Gulu, last October and November. The disease spread easily because of poor water and sanitation conditions. Although the outbreak was contained, overall concerns remain about the possibility of additional cases.

UNICEF and partners are continuing to support the drilling of boreholes and pumps (including motorized systems) to improve access to clean water by camp residents, who currently get about 5-10 litres per person per day, which is below the international minimum daily standard of 15 litres of water per person per day.



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