Population Day: Ugandan Refugee Crisis

By Ronald Ssekandi

SEMBABULE, Uganda (Xinhua)

As the world marked World Population Day on Saturday, Uganda is grappling with the worst ever refugee crisis it has faced in decades.

The global theme for this year’s commemoration is “Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies”. Refugees are vulnerable communities that if not attended to and yet their population is increasing can cause negative effects to the social and economic development of the country.

“This year we are focusing on the importance of protecting the rights of vulnerable people in communities and also in crises or humanitarian situations.

“We want to make sure the rights of women and girls are respected, they are not raped, they don’t get unwanted pregnancies and to make sure they don’t die while giving birth,” Esperance Fundira, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative told Xinhua here. Uganda’s World Population Day commemorations were held here in the central Ugandan district of Sembabule.

Uganda is home to over 460,000 refugees mostly originating from neighboring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Over the last five decades, Uganda has been hosting an average of 160,000 refugees annually but the recent influx of South Sudan refugees in the country has pushed up the figure to the current 460,000 refugees.

Many refugee women and children who cross the border into Uganda arrive while malnourished.

The refugees entirely depend on relief food until they are given a piece of land by the Ugandan government to cultivate on.

The provision of relief aid is frequently interrupted by the funding gap that agencies face.

According to UNFPA, the influx of refugees in Uganda is exerting pressure on Uganda’s health sector which is already operating at sub-optimal level especially in the host communities.

The agency argues that there is need to scale up the staffing levels and medical equipment at health facilities in refugees settlements and surrounding areas.

“Settlements cover over 40 square miles and yet existing health facilities are few and under resourced and referral hospitals are over 75km away from settlements,” the agency said.

“It is critical that the health facilities are strengthened with provision of critical staff (midwives and doctors), augment supplies and basic equipment and strengthening the referral system to sustain the high uptake of services,” it added.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement issued this week said it is in urgent need of resources to take care of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

“The UN Refugee Agency’s appeal for the humanitarian response for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda remains severely underfunded.

“To date, just nine per cent of the 99 million U.S. dollars needed has been met,” the agency said.

“Current resources remain insufficient to provide vital life-saving assistance and services, particularly in the areas of health, education and livelihoods and environment,” it added.

Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Under-Secretary General and UNFPA Executive Director in a statement to mark World Population Day said there is need to prioritize health, rights and the full participation of women, adolescent girls and young people in public life.

“We must enable women, adolescent girls and young people to play their full role in peace talks, peace building and recovery, and to ensure that governments comply with international law and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice,” he said.

“The world has to worry about vulnerable people.

“As we speak we have about 60 million people displaced all over the world.

“If there is no peace there is no development.

“Every country should care about the vulnerable people because they are also citizens and if they are empowered, they can contribute to the social and economic development of the country,” said Esperance Fundira, UNFPA Country Representative.

Despite the challenges faced by refugees, there have been efforts by the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies to improve their livelihood.

“As UNFPA, we provide sexual and reproductive health services.

“We make sure women deliver safely, they survive during delivery and the babies also survive.

“We take care of issues of sexual and gender based violence because when there is a lot of pressure, there is a lot of rapes and sexual violence,” said Fundira.

UNFPA has provided support to 14 health facilities in western and southwestern Uganda serving the DRC refugees.

Over 6,000 women have been supported to access safe delivery care services.

This includes 481 women who were supported to access comprehensive emergency obstetric care services.

At least 6,900 women were supported to use family planning methods most of them for their very first time in their lives.

“Placing the protection and health of women and girls at the center of humanitarian response also makes communities more resilient and helps with recovery.

“Ensuring their health and safety therefore is not only a moral obligation, it is also a strategic investment,” said Fundira.

from Coastweek (http://coastweek.com/3828-Uganda-faces-refugee-crisis-as-world-marks-population-day.htm)