Karamoja food poisoning: Wake-up call for Christian values in relief service

Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/04/karamoja-food-poisoning-wake-up-call-for-christian-values-in-relief-service/

Apr
15

Douglas Alum, far right, at age 12 and shortly after his release from the Lord’s Resistance Army and another returnee, far left. Others pictured are Douglas’ family. All consumed World Food Program supplements in the 1990s.
Douglas Olum, far right, at age 12 and shortly after his release from the Lord’s Resistance Army and another returnee, far left. Others pictured are Douglas’ family. All consumed World Food Program supplements in the 1990s.

By Douglas Olum

At the peak of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), rebels’ insurgency in Northern Uganda in the 1990s, the World Food Programme (WFP) distributed a food supplement called BP-100 biscuits in what was known as the Internally Displaced People’s camps.

As a child then in that area, I ate some of the biscuits and exchanged some for books or pens with my school colleagues.  It was a high-energy, ready-to-use, therapeutic food that did, as I recall, ease our hunger. Because we had no lunch at school and our parents would spend their days looking for what to cook, we had biscuits for lunch while being well aware that when we returned home at the end of the day, we would hardly find anything to bite.

Uganda map showing Karamoja area
                             Uganda map showing Karamoja area

Roughly two decades later, similar supplements are being provided in the Karamoja districts of Kaabong, Kotido, Abim, Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit and Amudat in the Eastern and Northeastern parts of Uganda. The nutritional need there today is a war of a different type.

The bore holes in these seven districts cannot yield water and the valley dams built for their livestock dry down for eight of 12 months a year.From September through April, the scorching sun cracks the clay soil, the trees are stripped bare of their leaves and the stunted grasses are wilted. Whirlwinds form dust storms sweep through the villages, carrying away nearly anything that stand in their way.

The districts that form the region cover approximately 27,000 square kilometers (10,400 square miles) of an arid and bush spans, and is home to at least 1.2 million people (Uganda Investment Authority, 2016) who are often forgotten.

A 2011 survey by the Uganda Department of Geological Survey and Mines at the Ministry of Energy revealed that Karamoja is rich in minerals such as gold, limestone, uranium, marble, graphite, gypsum, iron, wolfram, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium and tin. Despite the hard work and long hours by local men, however, they can hardly afford to provide for their families.

Additionally, such adverse climatic conditions affect food production. People and their animals migrate to find food. But hunger strikes, costing many lives of both livestock and humans, especially among children and elderly who cannot trek long distances.

In an attempt to combat such mortality, the United Nations, through the WFP, has since the 1960s, just like God did for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:13-17), provided food relief to the community. However, in 2011, the relief agency brought a new policy that only provided for food distributions to children. Alas, when men, women and children are hungry, food is consumed by all.

Unfortunately in early March, the agency found itself in an unforeseen crises when the very relief it intended caused sickness. At least four people died and more than 220 others were admitted to various hospitals in the districts of Napak and Amudat following the consumption of a food supplement, ‘Super Serial’ that was distributed. People who consumed the food supplement, purportedly meant for expectant mothers and malnourished children, vomited and developed general body pains and weaknesses, mental illness, high fever and headache.

In April, a joint investigation by the Government of Uganda and WFP into the causes of the deaths and illnesses was taking place. The food samples, as well as blood and other extracts from the sick and the dead were taken to laboratories in Mombasa (Kenya) and South Africa for specialized analyses. At the same time, the UN agency that has supplied food to needy Ugandans for decades, is researching its supplement expiration dates and overall policies for management of food reserves.

As the supply has been halted and the beneficiaries have been asked to return whatever was not yet consumed, the incident reminds both the organization and its workers of the need for education and Christian values in exercising duties and caring for the less fortunate. That’s part of the responsibility of education and being good stewards of Christianity.

As a student at Uganda Christian University, I recall how faith was integrated into all our learning. Thinking back on those days, I can’t help but wonder not only about the lack of attentiveness to the details of expiration dates for food provided to Karamoja, but also about the attentiveness to a population of people that is every bit as equal in God’s eyes.

For these 1.2 million of Uganda’s 42.8 million people, what happened in March of this year is an efficiency, effectiveness and Christian values wake-up call.

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For more of these stories and experiences, visit https://www.ugandapartners.org. If you would like to assist a current student or otherwise support the university, contact Mark Bartels, Executive Director, UCU Partners, at m.t.bartels@ugandapartners.org or go to https://www.ugandapartners.org/donate/

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