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Coronavirus lockdown leaves West Nile starving

By Benedict Okethwengu

Added 8th May 2020 12:18 AM

Walking through the streets of the major towns in the region, it is clear that normal life is on hold. Most of the shops and restaurants remain closed.

Coronavirus lockdown leaves West Nile starving

A family in Nebbi town feeding on anyoya (a mixture of beans and maize)

Walking through the streets of the major towns in the region, it is clear that normal life is on hold. Most of the shops and restaurants remain closed.

HEALTH  FOOD  COVID-19

WEST NILE - Hunger and anger are building up in West Nile as the poor can hardly put food on their tables. This is a result of the lockdown, which was put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the area leaders. 

Walking through the streets of the major towns in the region, it is clear that normal life is on hold. Most of the shops and restaurants remain closed, except for hardware and wholesale shops. 

One is greeted by emaciated youth and middle-aged men sitting desperately on the streets. The situation is even worse in the rural areas, where many families are starving. 

"Things are not good. People are dying of hunger," said Sarah Wokoru, the managing director of ETS Transport and Logistics Services. "I have just returned from Yumbe, where I had gone to deliver a bag of posho and 5kg of beans to a starving family," she said. 

In Nebbi and Pakwach, many families, especially those headed by children and single parents, are begging for food in the neighbourhoods. 

For instance, James Okello, 56, a resident of Akesi cell in Nebbi Municipality, stormed Nebbi main market on Saturday and asked the market leadership to come to his rescue. He used to fend for his family with a commission he got after selling second-hand clothes. 

A single father, Okello had spent two days without eating anything. He has six family members under his care. His bold move earned him the food that sustained the family for the next two days. 

"I had no option but to beg, I am glad people in the market came to my rescue," Okello said. 

Like Okello, Siama Chandiru, 40, a resident of Bibia cell in Arua Municipality, said she has run out of money. She said she could not continue working because her business involved gatherings, which the President discouraged in the fight against COVID-19. 

In her grass-thatched house, Chandia looks dejected, angry and hungry. "I have no other means to survive, all the money I saved is finished, yet I am not allowed to do business. If we cannot be given food, then let the coronavirus come and kill me rather than me dying of hunger," she said.

Yasin Ismail, 32, a resident of Onduparaka in Arua municipality, has not been able to provide food for his family for the past two days. 

He said he used to vend juice around town, but now he cannot because of the lockdown. "I used to get sh10,000 a day from the sale of juice and that was enough to feed my family, but now things are hard because all our customers are at home," Ismail said. 

COVID-19 DRIES UP ECONOMY 

Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Uganda on March 21, sources of income have dried up for many families in the region. 

The situation has been made worse by people having little savings and a poor social security net culture. 

West Nile region is the country's second poorest and underdeveloped region after Karamoja, according to the latest statistics from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS). 

Analysts say as the number of coronavirus cases rises and the lockdown continues, life will become more challenging for the people of West Nile if the Government does not intervene.

So far, the country has reported 101cases, with no deaths, according to the health ministry.

POSSIBILITY OF NEAR STARVATION 

The possibility of near-starvation is now eminent in many rural areas in the region. Angella Akoth, a rights activist and lawyer with ActionAid International, said restriction on the movement of people has proved economically devastating for West Nile's poor, majority of whom live in rural areas. 

She said there are tales in most villages in the region of people sleeping on empty stomachs.

Akoth said rural households in the region do not have the means to cope with the lockdown. She urged the Government to distribute food to the people to prevent them from dying of hunger. 

"Shutting down the economy means topping the flow of money. That is why people are sleeping on empty stomachs," Akoth added. 

DISTRICT TASK FORCE INCAPACITATED 

The district task forces in the region are equally unable to provide the much-needed food. They have been rallying for support, which is hardly coming. The task forces have received sh165m each for the COVID-19 response, but sources say the money comes with many strings attached.

"Our people are starving. We want to feed them, but the money we have has its guidelines, we cannot divert it to food," said one of the top members of the Nebbi district task force. 

He said they are also clueless about when the food distribution programme, which is underway in Kampala and Wakiso, will reach the region. 

Christopher Omara, the Nebbi Resident District Commissioner, advised residents to do farming, but his appeal received strong resistance, with many saying they could not go to the garden on empty stomachs. 

WEST NILE LEADERS WRITE TO GOVERNMENT

Bernard Atiku, the Ayivu County Mp, said many families in rural West Nile region are having fewer meals and borrowing food from neighbours to survive. 

According to Atiku, Arua needs about 50 tonnes of posho and 30 tonnes of beans to be able to overcome the effect of the lockdown. 

"People are starving in West Nile, I have written to the office of the Prime Minister to dispatch food to the region," he said. 

New Vision has also seen a copy of the letter by Atiku to Musa Ecweru, the State Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness, soliciting for food from the Office of the Prime Minister. 

"The delayed response to dispatch food relief is threatening to disintegrate into a state of lawlessness. I, therefore, request your office to dispatch at least 50 tonnes of posho and 30 tonnes of beans to salvage the situation," the letter read. 

Rachael Adiayango, the Nebbi deputy RDC, said it is necessary to deliver food to the needy families in the region immediately. 

Emmanuel Ongeirtho, the Jonam County MP, said: "The situation is bad, the government should come to people's rescue," he said.

 

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