Without stable roots, refugees in Uganda face malnutrition amid COVID-19

26 January, 2021

Daniel Kintu

Even before COVID-19, one-third of Ugandan children were malnourished. COVID-19 has made this difficult situation worse, with lost income, difficulties getting food from point A to point B, and shifts in humanitarian funding. According to UNICEF, levels of malnutrition are expected to rise by 14% as an indirect result of the pandemic.

In Uganda, the situation is particularly tenuous for refugees. Today, Uganda is home to 1.4 Million refugees, primarily from South Sudan. In Palorinya Settlement, home to 120,000 refugees, 60% of whom are children, we’ve seen the shift firsthand.

In the first months of Uganda’s COVID-19 shutdown, many families were faced with a nutritional challenge. Schools and other informal educational frameworks in Palorinya provided a bowl of porridge or snack to children regularly. This had been extremely helpful for families struggling to make ends meet. 

Further exacerbating the situation, months into the pandemic, food rations in the settlement were cut by 30% due budget limitations, leaving children and their families at only 70% of their ration, and without the key support of other services usually accessible in non-COVID times. With educational frameworks shut down indefinitely, the bowl of porridge or snack was no longer available. 

As more and more caregivers found themselves without employment and with decreased incomes, feeding their families became more and more challenging. Furthermore, previously, trained community workers and professionals had been able to regularly engage with and monitor children, but now these opportunities were non-existent.  This means that children’s behavior, development, and any psychosocial or nutritional needs are less likely to be identified and addressed.

Uganda is unique in its approach to refugees. With an open-door policy for refugees, every new arrival is given a plot of land to live on and cultivate. However, this essential resource is currently underused. Refugees often do not have the funds, machinery, or other resources to leverage their land. In this sense, refugees in Uganda have limited options in dealing with the ongoing malnutrition concerns. 

Without access to critical resources and information, malnutrition will remain a challenge. Far more worrying is the fact that COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Uganda, further worsening the dire situation in which refugees are living. While many other countries can see the light at the end of the tunnel with mass vaccination campaigns, refugees in Uganda will have to continue functioning in these circumstances for the foreseeable future, as vaccines won’t be available anytime soon.

With this in mind, the IsraAID team is working to integrate critical awareness-raising messages about the prevention of malnutrition into our door-to-door outreach activities, while our physical community spaces remain closed due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. We are inspired and hopeful as we see community members taking the initiative to establish community gardens within their compounds, to increase food supplies. These continue to be maintained and remain accessible to the communities. Despite the far-reaching and incredibly complex implications of the pandemic, we, at IsraAID remain focused on ensuring that communities can build resilience and remain resourceful to build a better future for themselves and Uganda at large.

Daniel Kintu is IsraAID’s Program Manager in Uganda

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