Jack and Elly Dalmeijer have returned to Canada from Uganda. They were working as CRWRC relief managers in Teso, a sub-region of northeastern Uganda. Shortly before Elly left the country she met a local police chief in the street. “How are you today?” she asked. “Well, my prison is empty,” he replied. “What happened? Did your prisoners escape?” said Elly, joking. “No. Life is different now–the people are no longer hungry.”
Local unrest had significantly increased a year ago when Uganda experienced a massive flood, creating a national food crisis. As a result of the crisis the chief’s jail had been quite busy.
In August, floods struck approximately 14 countries across Western and Eastern Africa. Northeastern Uganda was one of the worst hit regions across the continent. Approximately 50,000 households, or 300,000 individuals, throughout Uganda were affected.
In the Teso sub-region of northeastern Uganda floods reached catastrophic proportions, causing the Ugandan Parliament to declare the country’s first ever “state of emergency”.
Though such flooding is unprecedented in Teso, its inhabitants, the Iteso, are familiar with crises: for many years conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government threatened the stability of the region; today, violent encounters with with cattle rustlers and armed militia continue to threaten the livlihoods of many families.
And yet, the land is full of potential and beauty. Teso is flat, green and lush –filled with many mango trees. Swamps shaped like rivers branch out in every direction. Farms dot the fringes of these swamps. Ash from ancient volcanoes permeates the soil, giving crops both resilience and unique flavour. Unfortunately, 90% of these crops were lost as a result of flooding.
In response to both the immediate health needs and the threat to long-term food security, a CRWRC-led consortium responded with a two-phase relief plan. The first phase focused on immediate food and non-food relief needs. The second supports future food security through seed distributions in the affected areas.
The consortium is made up of four local and international groups. Partnering with CRWRC were the Mennonite Central Committee, Pentecostal Assemblies of God, and the planning and development arm of the Anglican Church of Uganda.
Beneficiaries of this project were households who experienced total or close to total crop failure due to flooding. Priority was given to child-headed households and families that included widows, the elderly, and the disabled.
Before the project began families were eating about one and a half meals per day. Now each family enjoys three full meals a day. The project assisted 11,000 households –and since the average home houses six family members, a total of 66, 000 people were fed.
Two weeks after the first food distribution, seed and farming equipment were also delivered. Many of the Ugandan people commented on the wisdom of this decision: by the time they received their seed they felt strong enough to begin planting. Most families had their gardens planted within twenty-four hours of receiving the seed.
“The Iteso are a different people now than they were in January,” says Elly Dalmaijer, a relief manager in Uganda. “Now you can hear laughter in the villages. And when I meet people they say, ‘come, see my garden’. There is a sense of hope, of pride.”