Hell on Earth - Revisiting the Horror of Northern Uganda
The last three days I have visited eight of the camps in Lira and Apac districts. The conditions are putrid and completely, violent inhuman. As my friend put it, it is "hell on earth." And it really is. The situation here is a subtle form of genocide perpetuated by the political and subsequent economic marginalisation of a people with the active and passive complicity of the government and international community.
The conditions in these camps are utterly horrifying - little kids and babies lying naked in the dirt, viciously malnourished with flies all over their bodies; elderly wasting away in puddles; more then ten people living in small tents made of plastic bags taped together; a mass of people crowded together in constant and real fear that the LRA will come to kill them and abduct their children; girls are young as 10 forced into prostitution for as little as 500 shillings a day (30 cents). The situation is truly hell on earth - a hell faced by more than 1.6 million people daily with no hope for peace or relief.
In some of the camps I visited, there is no NGO, government or international presence. In some cases, the government has not even recognized that these camps - with thousands and thousands of people - exist. One man told me, "We are starving to death. By the time you come back to see us, we will probably all be dead." There is no food, and when the people go out to the fields to cultivate, they are attacked. The government is providing no protection and possesses little commitment or will to end the war. It is truly a hopeless situation.
At the final camp I visited - Barr IDP camp in Lira - this one little boy of about 3 took my hand as we walked through what seemed to be an endless camps (home to 40,000+). It finally hit me at that moment that real people, innocent children like this boy will soon die and just become another number of the million casualties of the war. At that second, I wanted to cry and break down and vomit. How can we live in a world where such unjustifiable suffering abounds?
Or perhaps the more constructive query - how should we live? The 18-year old war and crisis in northern Uganda can end, but only if their is will from the Ugandan government and/or international community. Each of us can use our power as citizens to demand that our governments push for peace in Uganda. The capacity is undeniably there; the challenge is the will.
One old man in the camps told me, "Since 1985, we had just had sleepless nights...In some ways, we are already dead. We yearn for peace, but we have no hope anymore."