POVERTY and AIDS in NORTHERN UGANDA
Poverty in Uganda is wide spread, approximately 46% of the population lives on less than $1 per day, according to 2001 World Health Organization estimates. Today, 2012, the North constitutes part of the 71% of the poorest 20% in Ugandans.
“According to the revised Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) 2004 – 2009, major causes attributed to the worsening poverty situation experienced during the period include: slower growth in agriculture; decline in farm - gate prices; vulnerability due to limited income sources; insecurity; high rate of fertility and mortality. Households and communities will find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, children will be malnourished, may become orphans, contribute to child labour, and they may be faced with fewer opportunities yet alone devoid of parental love and care. Lango sub-region bears disproportionate share of the growing poverty in Uganda today following statistical representation.
A number of children are on the streets because of death of parents due to HIV/AIDS. The 2006 UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic on Uganda indicates that between 870,000 and 1,300,000 children are orphaned by AIDS in the country. Death of parents due to HIV/AIDS as W. James Jacob, an author in the Journal on Children and Poverty in 2004, wrote, "HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of orphan hood in Africa in general and Uganda specifically. Lira being one of the towns in Northern Uganda that harboured Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is still facing allot of challenges as a result of the existence of IDP camps. Increased HIV/AIDS pandemic spread within Lira was linked to the concentration of camps, many persons were believed to be infected due to high moral decay experienced in camps.
Children on the streets are at risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS given their age that they would want to experiment with everything. It is estimated that 18% of orphans and other vulnerable children engaged in early sexual activity before the age of 15 , while 7,000-12,000 children, the majority girls, are estimated to be involved in commercial sex.
Most parents and guardians are not gainfully employed or self-employed because they lack the skills and resources. Most of the children are being taken care of by women of whom about 60% are widows, or single parents due to separation or divorce. Other business sources of income engage in by these single parents are: sale of charcoal, vegetables, washing clothes in people’s homes as housemaids, winnowing cereals at grinding mills and produce line business line.
Districts in North-Central Uganda were the most affected districts of Northern Uganda by armed violence and conflict by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in which 90% of the population (nearly 2 million people) had been relocated to Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps since 1986. A population of almost 2 million people has been in the 200 concentration camps where they lived in abominable conditions, defined by staggering levels of squalor, disease and death, humiliation and despair, appalling sanitation and hygiene, and massive overcrowding and malnutrition. They do not have the bare minimum.
The camps were massively over-congested: a space of 16m2 for each person, whereas the recommended minimum surface area for each person is 45 m2. Families of 6–8 persons had to pack themselves, ‘sardine-like’, into a tiny hut of 1.5 meter radius; the minimum standard for such emergencies is 3.5 square meters per person. Contrary to traditional culture, three generations of a family -- parents, children and grandparents -- were all forced to share the same living space, with loss of all privacy and dignity.
A survey has reported that, among the population in the camps, 85% suffered from severe trauma and depression. Suicide has been highest among mothers who felt utter despair at their inability to provide for their children, or to save them from starvation or death from preventable diseases. A survey by MSF shows that 62% of women interviewed in the camps thought of committing suicide out of extreme desperation. More than one report spoke of frequent occurrences of rape and generalized sexual exploitation, especially by government soldiers (both those stationed in the camps and the mobile units) as having become “entirely normal.” Those soldiers felt entitled to take any woman or girl and doing anything they want with her with complete impunity.
In a report by Human Rights Watch had reported that women in a number of camps had told how they had been raped by soldiers from the Ugandan army as it was exceptionally difficult for women to find protection from sexual abuse by government soldiers. Following the 1985-2006 war, those IDP camps have been referred to as ‘breading-grounds’ of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in North-Central Ugandan. Those who left the many IDP camps after the LRA moved left Northern Uganda were those with HIV/AID and so HIV/AIDS spread throughout North-central Uganda. Present HIV/AIDS levels, e.g. in Lira, Lango, are still around the 10-11%! Severe impoverishment leave women and girls often with few alternatives but to exchange sex for survival. Increased powerlessness in women has led and still leads to rape and sexual violence.