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Starving locals struggle to pull through in famine-hit E Uganda
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20:55, July 20, 2009

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As wild plants, leaves, fruits and weeds are withering in the unmerciful sunshine, the hope for the starving population in eastern Uganda to pull through a looming famine become dimmer as well.

"I don't know what I am going to survive with my family now. The wild plants we have been depending on have withered," said Innocent Opumar, a resident in Katakwi district.

Local residents in six districts in eastern Uganda, also known as Teso region, since earlier this year resorted to what had been left in the field after a widely crop failure following prolonged drought and unpredictable rainfalls.

As 34 starvation-related deaths were reported, hunger drove people to risk digging up and eating immature cassava, which may keep them fed for a moment but hospitalized later for food poisoning.

"The hunger forced me to go and uproot the immature cassava. We boiled it. After eating, it turned out to be a disaster. Everybody had diarrhoea and vomiting," Charles Anoma told Xinhua at Acowa health centre in Amuria district.

Anoma and his family of ten people were admitted at the health centre due to food poisoning.

The health center was also crowded by malnourished children, who are the most vulnerable and imminent victims along with elders in this crisis.

"We receive this kind of cases on a daily basis. We only give them oral dehydration salt as we don't have food to give them," said Rauben Ibwalatum, the health assistant at Acowa health centre.

Without food, social gatherings including weddings were banned by Amuria authorities in a bid to regulate and control food; children massively dropped out of schools to work outside for a solid meal; HIV/AIDS patients stopped taking antiretroviral drugs which require five meals a day.

"We are only waiting for our days to come and die," an AIDS patient who declined to be named told a group of visiting legislators in Amuria.

"I have never seen a climax of famine like this. People can't afford a meal for several days," said Omax Hebron Omeda, the Amuria resident district commissioner.

"People now don't know what is called breakfast, lunch or supper. Very soon, if government doesn't intervene by scaling up the food supply, people are going to die," he said.

A severe food shortage has swept most parts of the country, leaving up to three million people in the crisis while the government has yet come up with enough funds to respond to the urgent appeals from 52 out of 80 districts.

Granaries went empty in most parts of Teso region. For those who have any little left, they prefer keeping it inside the house due to escalating food thefts reported in the last few months.

"You cannot even leave any food stuff to dry on the compound; you will not get it because some one will just steal it," said Judith Akello, a resident of Katakwi district.

A total of 17 districts in northwestern, northeastern and eastern Uganda have been listed as the most hit, acute food shortage is being experienced in 31 districts while four districts in western Uganda were evaluated as moderately affected.

The government has so far delivered relief food to over 1,000 starving people in the region, but it is far beyond enough.

"What can one cup of beans and two of posho do? It's just for one meal," said Patrick Amuriat, the chairperson of Teso Parliamentary Group.

Robert Ekongot, the Katakwi district chairperson, asked the government to provide food that can last for at least six months as no harvest would be expected in the near future.

"We need both immediate, short term and long term interventions to address this situation," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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