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Hunger ravages children in a forgotten corner of Uganda

In one of Uganda’s poorest and most lawless regions, anxious mothers clutch bone-thin infants in a malnourished ward, terrified their child might be the next to succumb to starvation in Karamoja.

One of Maria Logiel’s youngsters, too weak to sit up, has telltale skin lesions caused by extreme hunger. The other, strapped to his back, gazes gauntly with sunken eyes.

“I came with these two because they were in bad shape and they were going to die,” Logiel told AFP at a hospital in Karamoja, a vast, remote northeastern border region stricken by the coronavirus. drought, disease and armed gangs.

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“(But) I left two others at home, and I’m afraid when I get back they won’t be,” the 30-year-old mother said.

More than half a million people go hungry in Karamoja, about 40% of the population of this neglected and long-suffering rural region between South Sudan and Kenya.

Natural disasters, plagues of locusts and armyworms, and raids by heavily armed cattle rustlers left little to eat.

As food becomes increasingly scarce, Karamoja’s most vulnerable residents struggle to survive.

“In three months, we have lost more than 25 children under the age of five due to malnutrition,” said Dr Sharif Nalibe, district health officer for Kaabong, one of Karamoja’s worst affected districts. .

“And these are the ones who were in our care, but (who) were brought to the hospital at the last minute. But there are many who die and (are) not reported in the communities.”

Out of sight

The famine in Karamoja goes largely unnoticed as more high-profile crises, including the impending famine in the Horn of Africa and the war in Ukraine, capture global attention.

Even in Uganda, the desperation is out of sight, taking place 500 kilometers (310 miles) from the capital Kampala in a part of the country long considered harsh and unstable.

But the level of difficulty is extraordinary, even by the extremes sometimes endured in Karamoja.

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Across the region, around 91,600 children and 9,500 pregnant or breastfeeding women suffer from acute malnutrition and need treatment, according to the latest assessment from humanitarian agencies and foreign donors.

“In terms of acute malnutrition…this year we’ve had the worst we’ve seen in the last 10 years,” said UNICEF nutrition specialist Alex Mokori, who screens for malnutrition. in Karamoja with the local authorities.

Logiel said she resorted to foraging to put food on the table, but wild plants often made her children sicker.

In desperation, she would sometimes buy the mealy dregs of a popular locally made sorghum brew called “malwa”, even though the effect was mildly alcoholic.

Half a liter of this residue costs around 40 US cents, often more than she could afford.

“A lot of times we fail to fundraise and kids go to sleep hungry,” Logiel said.

Worse to come

With a porous border and a thriving illicit trade, Karamoja has endured decades of armed cattle raids between nomadic clans that roam the lawless border between Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya.

These incursions make life even more miserable for Karimojong communities who rely entirely on livestock and crops to survive, and government interventions to disarm the thieves have not stopped the cycles of violence.

The erratic effects of climate change – Karamoja is experiencing severe drought, but the last year has seen devastating floods and landslides – have only multiplied the difficulties facing the region.

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“Now with prolonged drought, cattle rustlers and communities without livelihoods, we are heading for the worst,” said Kaabong district health officer Nalibe.

For some, the worst has already happened.

Nangole Lopwon went to sell firewood in a nearby village and left her starving twins with one of her older children, only to return to find that one of the younger ones had died.

“What could I do? The child was not sick. It was only hunger that killed him,” said the mother of five from Kaabong.

Now she too is malnourished and the surviving twin is in a terrible state.

“Even this one is about to die,” she moaned.

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Post expires at 2:09pm on Friday June 24th, 2022