Rhino Camp, Uganda: A Refugee Perspective
By Grace Abu
Late last year, nutritionist Grace Abu, visited the Rhino Refugee camp in Northern Uganda for a two day period to see family and friends. This article describes her observations and those of refugees about the conditions of camp life with particular emphasis on the quality of agency-administered feeding programmes. During the two days Grace witnessed a general ration distribution herself.
camp is one of the major Ugandan camps accommodating Southern Sudanese
refugees and is situated on the fringe of the country's largest game park.
The population of more than 100,000 comprises mainly women and children with few men or elderly in evidence. Absent men visit their families in the camp between lulls in the fighting in Sudan. UNHCR rationale for settling refugees at this location was to allow greater scope for self sufficiency through land allocation for crop cultivation. Tools and seeds are provided by various agencies. The land is fertile so that in normal circumstances crop yields in addition to a general food ration should be sufficient to sustain the people throughout the year.
This policy of land allocation appears to indicate agency recognition that the civil war in south Sudan is likely to continue indefinitely, and that resourcing food assistance for this population may prove politically problematic in the longer term.
Humanitarian Agency involvement in the camp
The number of agencies involved in providing camp services has diminished, leaving only a small number of UN agencies and the German Federation Action Team.
During my visit, refugees raised their concerns about the following issues;
- Food security
- Communication between agency staff and refugees
Refugees report that food availability is regularly threatened in a number of ways; grazing animals, rebel attacks, and interrupted food supplies, all of which are contributing to increased levels of malnutrition in the camp. Because of the camp's game park location, wild animals, mainly herbivores, eat the growing crops at night. This means that refugees are constantly anxious about the destruction of their crop yields before harvest. Of greater concern are the problems posed by the area-based, anti-government, Ugandan rebels. Known as the 'Lord's Resistance Army', these rebels often attack the refugees in their fields confiscating crops just before harvest time. Some times the rebels actually enter the camp during general food distributions in order to loot the foods. Forced to flee their crops and homes for the safety of neighbouring villages, refugees frequently find themselves left with 'inadequate' general rations*, the variety and quantity of which is based on the assumption that refugees have access to alternative food sources. In addition, periodic interruption of donated food supplies results in general ration delays and shortages. It is unclear as to whether the problem is political, (i.e. reduced donor support) or due to poor regional food availability (causing supply problems for WFP). Either way, the result is fewer and reduced quantities of items in the general ration and the perception that this is leading to increased levels of malnutrition in the camp.
Therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes have been set up in the camps by the German Action Federation team. Although I did not see any nutritional survey data, I felt from my visit to the centres that there is a malnutrition problem in the camp mainly due to lack of food. Severely malnourished children, are cared for and weighed daily in the 24 hr therapeutic feeding centre. Those who do not improve are referred to Arua Hospital, over fifty miles away. Children enrolled on the supplementary feeding programme are weighed when they are brought to collect their rations each week. There have been ongoing problems with the preparation of corn soy blend (CSB) in the feeding programme, because refugees are not familiar with its use. When prepared at the feeding centres, it is properly cooked and so causes no problems. When prepared by the mothers at home however, many children end up with diarrhoea because the CSB is not cooked long enough. Consequently, mothers often report giving the CSB to other family members instead.
Communication between agency staff and refugees
General ration distribution
involves long hours and hard work. Agency field workers and refugees must
work closely together with only two people responsible for distribution
of food and non-food items to over 1,000 refugees. Obviously, everyone
gets tired. Tempers fray, especially when there is under-provision of commodities,
and there is often disorder among refugees before the completion of distribution.
Refugees report that fieldworkers sometimes end up shouting and losing
their tempers, at times even closing the distribution site and justifying
this in reports by claiming that there were a large number of defaulters.
These actions undermine the emotional wellbeing of refugees, creating resentment
and loss of respect between both parties.
Refugees also feel that information about their problems regarding looting of crops etc. is not filtering through to senior agency management. For example, refugees believe that in light of the regular looting, agency staff on the ground who know of their predicament, should at least conduct some form of assessment to determine the extent of the resulting food shortages and make these good. The perception of refugees is that because field workers are effectively the mediators between the refugees and the so called headquarter 'experts', that the latter don't know exactly what is happening on the ground other than through reports prepared for them by field workers. These reports are believed by the refugees to be biased and non- representative of their grievances.
They are thought to be written in a way that ensures continued donor support, by describing the situation as normal with refugees 'doing well'. Looting and food security are rarely mentioned. There is a sense that fieldworkers downplay problems out of fear of losing their jobs (i.e. programmes may be closed if the extent of the problems are accurately reported).
When headquarter staff do make the occasional camp visit, refugee leaders claim they have been 'encouraged' by agency field workers to advise their communities to tell the experts that all is 'going well'.
Because of the problems
described above, a large number of despondent refugees choose to return
home, often without notifying the camp authorities. In some cases, the
male head of household departs in advance of his family to plant crops
and build a house in preparation for his family's arrival. For these families,
the return 'home' is less traumatic as their basic needs will be met.
Other groups plan less well with whole households departing together. These families experience problems of food shortages and may be lucky to get some food from relatives already resettled. Real hardship and suffering may be experienced as they try to re-establish themselves. It would be interesting to assess the numbers of refugees who return home because of despair with camp conditions.
It would appear there is a need for better management, monitoring and evaluation of activities carried out in this camp. The detection of problems at an early stage is crucial. Evidently this needs co-operation between all parties involved; headquarter/field staff and refugees alike. In particular, the problem of ration content and quantity might be resolved if the 'experts' came more often to witness what actually happens on the ground.
- There is an urgent need to review security measures to protect refugee crops and rations.
- General ration distributions should be re-organised so that the process is not so arduous for agency staff and beneficiaries. This may require more distribution sites and/or more staff. Refugees should be better informed about general ration shortfalls so that they are aware of this before queuing up for rations.
- Nutrition education measures should be undertaken to inform mothers about how best to prepare CSB at home.
- General ration planning should be more flexible and based on ad hoc assessments of crop losses as and when they occur.
- When there is a failure to supply refugees with planned general rations, subsequent distributions should make up for short-falls (retrospective ration provision).
*The general ration comprises of: Maize meal (<7kg/person/fortnight), 2 mugs of lentils/person/fortnight, and 1 cup of salt/person/fortnight
More like this
FEX: Issue 05 Editorial
Dear Readers, This edition of Field Exchange focuses on micronutrients. Andre Briend from ISERM gives us an overview of some of the key emergency related micronutrient...
Author: Lina Payne - Food Researcher Resettlement programme, N. Uganda, Oxfam Between 1995 and 1997, Ikafe and Imvepi settlements in Arua District, North Uganda,...
FEX: Acceptability and use of cereal-based foods in refugee camps: case studies from Nepal, Ethiopoa and Tanzania
By Catherine Mears with Helen Young Outbreaks of scurvy, pellagra and beri beri among refugees in the 1980s caused a public outcry, as many of these more unusual deficiency...
FEX: Issue 10 Editorial
Dear Readers, Over the past ten years large-scale outbreaks of pellagra have only occurred amongst populations dependent on emergency food aid. The most recent outbreak in...
Summary of Published Paper In February 1996, WFP reduced rations for refugees in Uvira, Zaire by 20% when visiting donors noted that food aid, primarily maize and oil, was...
By Mulugeta WTsadik An example of gardening in a camp setting Mulugeta WTsadik is food security and nutrition officer with UNHCR Ethiopia since 2004. She has a degree in rural...
Agencies deciding to implement food aid targeting in emergencies often face constraints on targeting design. Three such factors are dealt with here: Quantity and quality of...
Geneva Foundation Patrick Brooke Janice Pritchard-Jones Joseph Gettier Dear Editors, Having read issue 4 of Field Exchange I wish to comment on the article "Novel...
Based on SCF (UK) field team experience in Turkana District, north west Kenya. Report by Mark Lawerence, Tanya Boudreau and Alexandra King summarised below. Over the past...
by Janack Upadhyay This article describes nutritional aspect of emergency food aid in Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal; the author was regional Food & Nutrition...
The author of this article is Zhara Mirghani with assistance from Rita Bhatia. Rita is the senior nutritionist in the Professional and Technical Support Services of UNHCR....
FEX: Issue 16 Editorial
Failure to learn lessons from past experience is a recurring theme in this issue of Field Exchange. Alain Mourey, the long-serving headquarters nutritionist from ICRC, laments...
Samuel Tadesse Samuel is working as a Nutrition and Food Security Consultant with UNHCR Ethiopia. He has more than 15 years experience in humanitarian response programs,...
by Judith Lewis, Coordinator United Nations Regional Inter-Agency Coordination and Support Office in Southern Africa (RIACSO) WFP Regional Director for East & Southern...
FEX: Kakuma Revisited
Kakuma Revisited Dear editors, I would like to comment on the article "Household Food Economy Assessment in Kakuma Refugee Camp" (Field Exchange, Issue 1, May 97)....
By Edgar Luce For the past two years, Edgar Luce has been working for WFP Jordan as a Programme Officer by monitoring operations, writing reports and acting as the VAM...
Published Lancet letters Two recent letters to the LANCET draw attention to two separate situations in which emergency food may have been used to promote longer term political...
Summary of published paper1 This woman is a widow and has nine people in her household to help provide for A study has recently been published on nutritional risk factors for...
Name CAFOD Internet http://www.cafod.org.uk Address Romero Close, Stockwell Rd, London, SW9 9TY Director Julian Filochowski Telephone +44 207 733 7900 Overseas staff approx...
By Allison Oman Allison is the Senior Regional Nutrition and Food Security Officer for UNHCR based in Nairobi, Kenya. She works with countries in the region to give technical...
Reference this page
Grace Abu (1998). Rhino Camp, Uganda: A Refugee Perspective. Field Exchange 5, October 1998. p15. www.ennonline.net/fex/5/rhino