Refugees and the host communities in Uganda are suffering food insecurity, a problem policy makers must address urgently, the World Bank has said in a report launched yesterday.
The report titled: "Informing the Refugee Policy Response in Uganda" was based on findings of the Uganda Refugees and Host Communities Household Survey 2018 conducted by World Bank and Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos).
The report was launched yesterday by the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr Hilary Onek at the Prime Minister's Office.
The report says 84 per cent of refugee households and 62 per cent of host households are food insecure. The World Bank attributed the problem to poverty.
Uganda is home to more than 1.2 million refugees with the civil war-torn South Sudan contributing the largest number of more than 700,000.
The World Bank observed that food is an essential human need and the refugees cannot rely on only aid from government and other humanitarian agencies for feeding.
"Food security remains a concern for both refugees and host households in Uganda. About seven out of 10 refugee households in Uganda experienced severe food insecurity, while the host proportion was only five out of 10," the report reads in part.
Quoting statistics of the World Food Programme (WFP) guidelines, the survey revealed that food insecurity is high in southwestern Uganda with 89 per cent of refugee households and 65 per cent of host households affected. In West Nile, food insecurity stands at 85 per cent for refugees and 62 per cent for host households.
The report states that urban refugees, especially in Kampala showed a low rate of food insecurity.
Despite findings showing that the refugees feel safe and secure in Uganda, most of them living in camps in rural areas, have failed to acquire assets compared to their counterparts in Kampala. Most of the refugees in Kampala are from Eritrea and Somalia.
While co-presenting the report, Mr James Muwonge, the director for Socio-Economic Surveys in Ubos, said more than half of the refugees are young aged below 15, which makes the dependency ratio high.
According to the survey findings, at least 46 per cent of the refugees live in poverty, making them more vulnerable than their hosts whose poverty level per household stands at 12 per cent compared to the national rate of 24 per cent. The poverty levels are higher in West Nile where the South Sudanese refugees live.
Refugees in Kampala were also found more educated than their counterparts in rural settlement camps and some of them have changed occupations since their arrival; refugees mostly upcountry have access to land for agriculture; female-led households are poorer; refugees have access to safe water than host households in West Nile.
Other findings are that refugees rarely access financial services like loans because of lack of collateral.
However, the report applauded the refugees for their contribution to local economic development in the host communities because they purchase durable goods from outside the settlement camps. In some cases they have generated jobs for Ugandans. An example is in Kampala where three out of four people employed in refugees' enterprises are Ugandans.
The report recommends that other countries follow the Ugandan model of progressive approach to refugees; policy makers should prioritise promoting self-reliance among the refugees; and the need for more humanitarian help to cure food insecurity and poverty.
The World Bank Country Manager, Mr Anthony Thompson, said the bank availed $500m (Shs1.8 trillion) to Uganda to support development activities in refugee settlements and host communities, out of which $233m (about Shs857b) has been approved so far. He did not state the period.
Operations worth $265m (about Shs974b) are under preparation for delivery in this fiscal year.
"World Bank support is focused on improving service delivery for refugees and host communities including physical planning and measures to protect the environment," Mr Thompson said.
Minister Onek said the findings will help government in better planning to ensure proper management of the refugees to co-exist with host communities. He said the refugee influx has inevitably stretched the capacity of local governments in service delivery.
"The main motive is to enable peaceful co-existence among the refugees and host communities. We hope that when they return to their countries of origin, we can relate in trade," Mr Onek said.
He said the OPM, working with development partners, will address challenges identified in the report.