"The worst year yet" - Malnutrition in Karamoja, Uganda

In Karamoja in eastern Uganda malnutrition is cyclical and chronic. But during the past months the situation has been worsening in many places.

The population has no crops. They have nothing to eat in the coming period. There is no rain. So I am expecting the situation to be worse than what you are seeing now.

In February last year an assessment in the area, by the World Food Programme (WFP), revealed that 15% of the children were suffering from acute malnutrition.

The way things are now, most of my children will be malnourished. Especially my youngest, Emmanuel, He's not growing as he should. I heard that I could get free help from MSF, so I decided to take him to their clinic.

The reason why we are here is because we believe the health system needs a booster to be able to respond to this emergency and MSF is able to provide that booster. We are able to mobilise very quickly and be on the ground.

MSF works to save the lives of children under the age of 5 through a mobile therapeutic feeding programme. This is the best way to bring care as close as possible to young patients and to reach a moving nomadic population.

MSF cannot prevent malnutrition, but we can assist in treating the most vulnerable people in the population by providing them with 2-weekly rations to bring them back to health.

There are three main reasons why these mobile clinics are implemented:

Unlikely other parts of Uganda, Karamoja relies only on one harvest per year. And then they rely on timely rainfall to be able to plant. This year the rain was late and very little, meaning the planting was almost nonexistent in some of the areas.

Compared to the last years, it has never been like this. In the past we used to cultivate and at least we got something. This is the worst year.

Second situation that is different now is in security. There is a shift from the -lets say- traditional cattle raiding with traditional weapons, to now firearms. With limited protection by authorities this is creating an unprecedented insecurity situation.

And on top of that you have rising prices in the food commodities. In Eprol the maize price went up about 60% and the beans also went up around 50% of the prices. So all those factors put together are the indication that the situation is an emergency and it needs more attention and probably the worst is yet to come.

It is a long way to go to the next year.

We have nothing on our fields. We expect that many might die in our community. We might lose many people.

This time there is nothing in our granaries. There will be a lot of hunger that we will face. We cannot fill them, not even with a bit. They have nothing now inside.

The MSF nutritional intervention started in June 2008 and was expected to run until September. With 24,000 children screened and 2,300 of them severely malnourished, the programme is now expected to continue into 2009.