At least 28 people are reported to have died of hunger in Karamoja region, a place President Yoweri Museveni said his wife and First Lady, Janet Kataaha Museveni, would make “a food basket”.
Speaking during the National celebrations to mark the International Youth Day at Boma grounds in Moroto Municipality Moroto district August 2014, Museveni urged the people to embrace commercial agriculture as the soil in the area is fertile.
“Karamoja must be a centre for food production-a food basket,” he said and then gave out cheques [Amudat received Shs. 329.8 million. Kaabong Shs.534million, Kotido Shs.422.6 million, Nakapiripirit Shs.388.4 million, Napak Shs.432 million and Moroto Municipality received Shs. 100 million] to the youth under the Youth Livelihood Program (YLP).
Janet feeds schools
In February 2015, Janet also the Minister of Karamoja Affairs launched the school feeding programme in Karamoja by handing over 17,100 bags (about 355 metric tons) of maize flour for distribution to primary and secondary schools in the region.
The maize flour produced by the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister in partnership with the Uganda Prison Service and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was grown and milled at the Uganda Prisons farm in Namalu Nakapiripirit District.
The maize flour was distributed by the WFP to 63 schools in Amudat and Nakapiripirit Districts for the second term this year and is expected to benefit over 24,000 children.
The Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister Mrs. Christine Guwatudde Kintu reported that the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs provided inputs worth 230 million shillings to facilitate the planting of the 300 acres of maize.
The inputs included tractors, seeds, fertilizers, a grain milling machine and temporary storage facility.
She said that 400 acres of maize would be planted this coming planting season and 200 acres of sunflower would also be planted to supplement the nutritional content of the food package to schools.
Janet praised for “transforming Karamoja”
The Minister is credited for having turned around Karamoja, a region known for poverty and illiteracy into a food basket and shining example of economic transformation.
In June 2015, Janet made a speech at the launch of Kobulin Youth Skills Centre in Napak District saying “As I talk now, Karamoja has become one of the areas people crave to live in. The Government through my office and other departments has worked tirelessly to create conducive environment to nurture and enhance the potential of Karamajong. We have embarked on addressing infrastructural bottlenecks to stimulate meaningful investments in Karamoja so as to reduce the cost of doing business.”
She talked of bringing industries, better roads, electricity to the religion so as to improve livelihoods and create more employment.
She emphasised that through NUSAF II and KIDP in her Ministry, they have managed to improve household incomes, address issues of health of the people and ensure food security in Karamoja among others.
Three months after, people started to die of hunger in the same region.
Famine kills 28 people
At the close of August 2015, Uganda Radio Network reported that farmers in Karamoja were likely to face severe famine after hundreds of commercial and subsistence farmers gardens registered crop failure.
The radio said all the districts in the region were already experiencing food crisis especially Moroto, Napak, Amudat, Nakapiripirit, Kaabong and Abim.
Mark Musooka, the District Chairperson Moroto, appealed to the Disaster Ministry to find ways of sending food to Karamoja since World Food Programme suspended aid to Karamoja in 2010 and 2011.
Around September 20, 2015, URN reported that several elderly persons and children had starved to death in Moroto and Napak districts weeks after government pledged to send emergency food aid to Karamoja.
Some of the most affected sub counties in Moroto include; Rupa, Katikeikile, Tapac and Nadunget.
Others in Napak are Ngoleriat, Lokopo and Lopei Sub Counties.
By yesterday, 28 people had died; government says it is aware of the hunger problem in Karamoja and “is about to act”.
The area MP for Matheniko County, John Baptist Looki, told the radio the hunger situation has reached an alarming stage.
He warned that if the situation is not handled in the next few days the sub region is bound to lose more lives.
“People in some villages have really died, as leaders we need to be honest. Let us not hide the problem. Some leaders always don’t want to talk about the famine in Karamoja – I don’t know for what reason. But I think even God himself has seen. It is injustice if we hide the hunger situation in Karamoja. It is worse. So we leaders must be honest and speak the truth. There is hunger and famine in Karamoja which needs immediate action by government and other humanitarian agencies.”
Max Lokabenyan, the LC3 Chairperson Nadunget Sub County says the hunger is real and an expeditious move is required to avert any more deaths.
He adds that he personally saw a child die in Akipeitar village, Acerer parish in his area on Wednesday.
Simon Peter Aleper, the Moroto Municipality MP says the situation is equally bad on the outskirts of town.
He says at least four people have died and several bed ridden due to hunger in Kambizzi village.
“We have lost a number of lives for example in Kambizzi, we lost three old women that is a few days ago and our call is; government expedites the process of bringing food. And am confident that it will come because the President even assured people that the food would come,” Aleper said.
Robert Jacka, Rupa Sub county chief says his area is facing a life-threatening food crisis.
He further says some children are dozed with alcohol to stop them from unnecessary hunger cries, an issue that forces them to slip into unintended sleep.
So far, a couple of weeks have elapsed since President Yoweri Museveni whose wife Janet Museveni is the minister of Karamoja pledged relief aid to the sub-region describing the situation as urgent for food aid response.
Museveni says he appointed Janet minister for Karamoja not as a privilege but as a sacrifice.