UN relief official spotlights world’s largest neglected crisis in northern Uganda

Jan Egeland

21 October 2004 – Shining the spotlight on what he called the world’s largest neglected humanitarian emergency, a senior United Nations relief official today called on the international community to get more involved in the nearly two-decade-old conflict in northern Uganda.

“Where else in the world have there been 20,000 kidnapped children? Where else in the world have 90 per cent of the population in large districts been displaced? Where else in the world do children make up 80 per cent of the terrorist insurgency movement?” said Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“For me the situation is a moral outrage,” Mr. Egeland told reporters after briefing the Security Council on a number of humanitarian issues in Africa.

According to UN sources, the 18-year rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) against the Government has forced more than 1.6 million Ugandans – half of them children – to flee to squalid and overcrowded camps in order to escape wanton attacks and killings. The numbers include some 40,000 “night commuters,” children who sleep under verandas, in schools, hospital courtyards, or bus parking places overnight to evade the snare of the LRA.

Mr. Egeland said he was heartened that the Council devoted so much time to the situation in northern Uganda and that there was a unanimous view that more international attention was merited, along with more efforts to bring an end to the senseless killing and suffering.

He also noted there were positive signals from the Government, citing more security in a number of areas in northern Uganda, a larger presence by Government forces to help protect humanitarian work, a new law concerning those uprooted from their homes and more recognition “of how big the problem is.”

“We hope, on the humanitarian side, that we’re now seeing a beginning of an end to this 18-year, endless litany of horrors, where the children are the fighters and the victims in northern Uganda,” he said.

“This would take a much bigger international investment – in money, in political engagement, in diplomacy and also more concerted efforts to tell the parties there is no military solution,” he added. Rather, “there is a solution through reconciliation, an end to the killing and the reintegration and demobilization of the child combatants.”

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