by Ronald Ssekandi
SEMBABULE, Uganda (Xinhua) – As the
world marked World Population Day on Saturday, Uganda is
grappling with the worst ever refugee crisis it has faced in
The global theme for this year’s commemoration
is "Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies". Refugees are
vulnerable communities that if not attended to and yet their
population is increasing can cause negative effects to the
social and economic development of the country.
"This year we are focusing on the importance of protecting
the rights of vulnerable people in communities and also in
crises or humanitarian situations.
"We want to make sure the rights of women and girls are
respected, they are not raped, they don’t get unwanted
pregnancies and to make sure they don’t not die while giving
birth," Esperance Fundira, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Country Representative told Xinhua here. Uganda’s World
Population Day commemorations were held here in the central
Ugandan district of Sembabule.
Uganda is home to over 460,000 refugees mostly originating
from neighboring countries like Democratic Republic of Congo
(DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Over the last
five decades, Uganda has been hosting an average of 160,000
refugees annually but the recent influx of South Sudan refugees
in the country has pushed up the figure to the current 460,000
Many refugee women and children who cross the border into
Uganda arrive while malnourished.
The refugees entirely depend on relief food until they are
given a piece of land by the Ugandan government to cultivate on.
The provision of relief aid is frequently interrupted by the
funding gap that agencies face.
According to UNFPA, the influx of refugees in Uganda is
exerting pressure on Uganda’s health sector which is already
operating at sub-optimal level especially in the host
The agency argues that there is need to scale up the staffing
levels and medical equipment at health facilities in refugees
settlements and surrounding areas.
"Settlements cover over 40 square miles and yet existing
health facilities are few and under resourced and referral
hospitals are over 75km away from settlements," the agency said.
"It is critical that the health facilities are strengthened
with provision of critical staff (midwives and doctors), augment
supplies and basic equipment and strengthening the referral
system to sustain the high uptake of services," it added.
The United Nations High Commissioner and Refugees (UNHCR) in
a statement issued this week said it is in urgent need of
resources to take care of the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
"The UN Refugee Agency’s appeal for the humanitarian response
for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda remains severely
"To date, just nine per cent of the 99 million U.S. dollars
needed has been met," the agency said.
"Current resources remain insufficient to provide vital life-
saving assistance and services, particularly in the areas of
health, education and livelihoods and environment," it added.
Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Under-Secretary General and UNFPA
Executive Director in a statement to mark World Population Day
said there is need to prioritize health, rights and the full
participation of women, adolescent girls and young people in
"We must enable women, adolescent girls and young people to
play their full role in peace talks, peace building and
recovery, and to ensure that governments comply with
international law and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to
justice," he said.
"The world has to worry about vulnerable people.
"As we speak we have about 60 million people displaced all
over the world.
"If there is no peace there is no development.
"Every country should care about the vulnerable people
because they are also citizens and if they are empowered, they
can contribute to the social and economic development of the
country," said Esperance Fundira, UNFPA Country Representative.
Despite the challenges faced by refugees, there have been
efforts by the Ugandan government and humanitarian agencies to
improve their livelihood.
"As UNFPA, we provide sexual and reproductive health
"We make sure women deliver safely, they survive during
delivery and the babies also survive.
"We take care of issues of sexual and gender based violence
because when there is a lot of pressure, there is a lot of rapes
and sexual violence," said Fundira.
UNFPA has provided support to 14 health facilities in western
and southwestern Uganda serving the DRC refugees.
Over 6,000 women have been supported to access safe delivery
This includes 481 women who were supported to access
comprehensive emergency obstetric care services.
At least 6,900 women were supported to use family planning
methods most of them for their very first time in their lives.
"Placing the protection and health of women and girls at the
center of humanitarian response also makes communities more
resilient and helps with recovery.
"Ensuring their health and safety therefore is not only a
moral obligation, it is also a strategic investment," said