Increased insecurity for both civilians and aid workers threatens humanitarian assistance in northern Uganda

Assistance to displaced people living in northern Uganda has been woefully inadequate and will be reduced further if this insecurity persists, warns MSF.

Kampala - Increasing insecurity, characterized by violent ambushes on civilian and humanitarian vehicles in the past weeks, will severely impact the already desperate situation of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the civil conflict in northern Uganda, according to the international humanitarian organisation MSF.

MSF calls upon all parties in the region to respect the freedom of movement of civilians and the independence and safety of humanitarian aid workers while ensuring their right to unhindered access to people in need of assistance. Assistance to displaced people living in northern Uganda has been woefully inadequate and will be reduced further if this insecurity persists, warns MSF. This issue must be urgently addressed.

"The recent spate of killings of aid workers and civilians in northern Uganda only highlights the ongoing insecurity and lack of protection faced by the people living in this region. These incidents threaten the assistance provided to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict, who are living in deplorable conditions and barely managing to survive," said Amaia Esparza, Head of Mission for MSF in Uganda.

At present, MSF medical programmes in the Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Pader districts of northern Uganda continue to provide assistance to displaced people living in camps although MSF international staff has been reduced and movements restricted due to the recent insecurity.

In addition, MSF has halted emergency transfers of patients in MSF vehicles and suspended water and sanitation activities in several camps, including the drilling of bore holes to provide much-needed water for displaced people in some camps in Kitgum. The recent murders of humanitarian aid workers have also limited the presence and services provided by many other humanitarian non-governmental organisations in the region.

Three ambushes on civilian vehicles occurred in Kitgum and Pader during the last five days. Twenty people were killed and at least 14 injured people have been admitted into two hospitals in Kitgum. The ambush in Kitgum targeted a civilian vehicle which was carrying four patients from the MSF clinic in Agoro. Fortunately the patients escaped, but the driver of the car was killed.

MSF has raised the issue of the safety of civilians and the lack of meaningful assistance in northern Uganda as a major concern on a number of occasions, including in a report released in December 2004. Yet, almost one year later, the situation for displaced people in northern Uganda remains deplorable and will only deteriorate further if the current insecurity persists.

MSF is an international humanitarian organisation providing medical aid to populations in distress, victims of natural or man-made disasters, and victims of armed conflict, regardless of race, religion, creed or political convictions. The organisation has been working in Uganda since 1982.

Today, 67 international aid workers and 900 Ugandan staff have programmes in 6 districts. These activities include humanitarian assistance in 20 Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in northern Uganda, provision of malaria diagnosis and treatment, as well as management of patients with particular diseases such as HIV/AIDS and kala azar.