FEATURE. As soon as an announcement is made over a mega phone by the community leader, members from within the refugee and host community in Tika 4 zone emerge from different villages to receive food aid.
Ms Abier Granga, in her 60s is one of the refugees in Tika 4 zone who came to Uganda in 2014; she is among the beneficiaries of the supplementary food aid provided by Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG).
Abier has six dependents that depend on her for food and other necessities of life.
“The flour I have received today, I will use it to prepare porridge every morning for my family in order to wait for the evening food out of the ration from WFP '' Ms Abier Garang, a refugee at Tika 4 zone said.
This supplementary food aid from PAG, a non-governmental organization with funding from Emergence Relief and Development Overseas (ERDO) and Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB), targets vulnerable groups including pregnant and lactating women and people with special needs.
Since 2017, the PAG Supplementary Feeding project is being implemented in villages of Ofua, Omugo and Tika 4 zones and 5 health centres of Rhino Camp Refugee settlement in Terego and Madi-Okollo districts supporting up to 2,250 refugees and host communities.
The project was primarily launched to supplement the small quantity provided under the World food program with reports indicating that Tika 4 zone is the worst hit by malnutrition in the settlement.
Mr Gideon Angu-erini, the in-charge at Ofua Health Centre III confirms that many refugees and members of the community have been coming to the health facility, without knowing that they suffer from malnutrition.
And this is the point when they are identified and later categorized based on the level of malnutrition they have so that they receive the supplementary food assistance from the health centre with support of partners like PAG.
Ajio Lydia, Beatrice Adania and Ayikoru Gloria are lactating mothers from the host community who complain that the burden to fend for their families rests on them due to negligence of their husbands, a case often reported in these remote communities.
“I thank PAG for the help through this supplementary food and I wish more kilograms are added” says Ms Ajio Lydia, a member of the host community in Abiri viallge, Tika zone said.
Ms Mary Achol, an expectant refugee mother added “I really want to appreciate PAG because what we receive, supplements the ration given by UNHCR. Because of the food ration cut, what PAG gives helps us to finish the two months. Sometimes we take porridge until the time for food ration distribution by WFP”
The refugee’s families are only given 50 sq. meter pieces of land which restricts their ability to produce enough food for consumption unless an agreement is reached with the land owners from the host community.
Local leaders have called for more investment in the host community if the refugees are to obtain sufficient and sustainable support.
Local Council one chairman of Abir village, Mr James Asiku Omia noted that the main occupation of the locals in the area is fishing, an activity that makes them to have less concentration on crop production which has affected availability of food for the increased population with refugees.
Mr Feni Twaib, the chairman for West Nile Humanitarian Platform, a body that brings together all humanitarian actors in the region believes that reduced food rations by WFP has had adverse impact on the refugees and he is calling on government to join the development partners in lobbying for more support for the vulnerable refugees and members of the host community.
However, despite the call for more support, Mr Denis Mbaguta, the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement Camp Commandant, expresses concern on possibilities that WFP may further cut the food ration hence increasing fears that the situation may worsen.
“From 100 per cent food ration, now it has been reduced to 60 per cent for a period of two months, most of which is finished within one month. This can best be overcome with skilling of the two communities and venturing into sustainable livelihood activities”, Mbaguta says.
In light of the challenges, the government of Uganda sees the solution to the food shortage in long term planning for both the refugees and the host community as opposed to short-term food handouts. Many refugees decided to go till land up the border, amidst the security threats.
“I must say that WFP reduced the food ration because of the amount of support they get from donors. This is a big challenge to us because the amount of land the refugees get is also small to carry better agriculture for self-sufficiency and this has affected the nutritional status of the refugees. Over a half of our people are malnourished”, Mr Solomon Osakan, the refugee desk officer at the office of Prime Minister Arua says.
While calling upon WFP not to reduce food rations further, Osakan urged partners to continue seeking for funding in order to support refugees and host community in this situation and encouraged traders to take food sales to the settlements in form of tarred fair in order to avert challenges of mobility
Terego District Chairman, Mr Wilfred Saka stresses that feeding challenges in the camps has been evident because of subsistence farming by host communities.
Saka expressed worries that people’s vulnerability in the camps has intensified as low attention by relevant organs has been given to face the challenges, adding that conditions of members of the host community are worse than that of the refugees.
He appealed for more investment in the local communities through livelihood enhancement programs by partners so that both refugees and the locals can sustain food production for themselves.
The stance for a long-term solution to food insecurity in the settlements is reiterated by PAG emergence coordinator Mr Moses Shesmond Esalu who says transitioning into livelihood projects is a better solution
Sheshmond believes that giving CSC plus is not a sustainable option rather than being a quick relief to those at the risk of malnutrition in order to regain.
He thinks transitioning into livelihood projects can be a better option to giving the CSC plus so that the beneficiaries can sustain their own nutritional cycles.
“Giving CSC Plus is not a sustainable option. In the next phase of the project, we are looking into transitioning into livelihood support. We believe that by supporting them with livelihood interventions will be a long term intervention to challenges of malnutrition”, Esalu says.
Since 2013, over 1 million South Sudanese have fled the civil war into neighboring Uganda, these together with their Ugandan hosts have benefited from different projects from humanitarian partners including the food donations from PAG.
But with no clear indication of when the war could finally stop, partners are increasingly looking at long term solutions that could lead to self-sustainability in the face of reducing donor support.