Uganda: WFP Funding Cut Makes Hard Times Harder

This has been a tough year for formerly displaced Ugandans trying to rebuild their lives in their northern homeland. Helen Oyela and her family are already facing drought and soaring food prices. A cut in WFP food aid because of a funding crunch has made matters worse.

KITGUM, Northern Uganda – On the days when the family fails to find food in exchange for casual labour, Helen Oyela walks off to a nearby refuse area to pick pumpkin leaves. Sometimes these leaves are their only meal.

The abrupt cut in WFP food aid in April couldn’t have come at a worse time for Helen and her family. The stop -- forced by a larger funding shortfall affecting WFP programmes worldwide -- meant they would get no support through the May-June lean season.

Like many people displaced by the conflict between government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Oyelas’ have a garden which was given them to help them restart their lives.

malnourished Oylea standing in a field under the hot sun

But the gardens are withering from a drought that is partly responsible for soaring food prices. All over the region there are stories of little and late rains – likely leading to a meager and delayed main harvest. For thousands like the Oyelas, their normal source of food is literally drying up.

"Sustain the family"

“Growing food is what we know,” Oyela, 40, says. “That is how we sustain our family.”

 Helen Oyela and her husband have 11 children – not all of them their own -- three cooking pans, two wash basins, a mattress and a straw broom. The couple also owns a jerry-can, a mosquito net and three water pots.

As we cut through thickets to get to her garden, Oyela describes how her millet failed to germinate in April. “When the rain came, we scrambled to plant, only for the crop to die,” she says. “We’d now like to plant cassava and peas if someone can give us seeds.”

Programmes hobbled

The lack of funds reaching WFP in Uganda doesn’t just affect food distributions. It also hobbles programmes such as cassava multiplication and fish farming, meaning that people’s recovery from the 20-year conflict will be slower than hoped. Learn more about WFP's funding shortfall

A July survey found that people in this area were eating smaller, fewer meals consisting mostly of starches and wild vegetables. In Kitgum district, where the Oyelas live, some 38 percent of people are scraping by this way -- compared to five percent in July 2008.

As Oyela arrives home from the garden, she gently calls to her youngest child.  “Wake up, wake up,”  she says as she pulls out a tired breast to feed him.

The strain shows.