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Hilary Onek to hunger victims: Don’t sell food

The minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Hilary Onek, has offered a bit of advice to the hunger-stricken; stop selling the little food you have left.

Onek said the weather has become so unreliable for Ugandans to hold on to the little hope for better yields.

“They should consider family needs first before selling all the food. Districts like Lira had a lot of food but it [food] was sold to traders from Kenya, South Sudan and even Rwanda because people want money,” he said in an interview.

Asked whether government would consider banning the sale of food to outsiders, Onek said they wouldn’t, in the spirit of the East African Community.

“That is not an option we will consider; we only want people to behave responsibly to take care of their family needs before they sell all the food,” he said. 

Minister Hilary Onek

Onek also cautioned that politicians shouldn’t use the famine for political gain. Interviewed for updates on the relief food distribution effort, Onek acknowledged that government is overwhelmed by the extent of the food crisis. He castigated FDC for exploiting the food crisis politically.

“They [FDC] are trying to use the people’s misery for political gain, which is very unfair. If it was politics, we should also have labeled the [relief food] bags NRM,” Onek said.

Recently, police forcibly dispersed crowds that turned up to receive food aid from former FDC president Kizza Besigye. At least five people were seriously wounded in the melee as police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the enraged crowds.

“What that party [FDC] is doing is very cheap politics that plays on people’s misery and I don’t think that is a fair game. Our people deserve genuine help, not food that is aimed at swaying their political persuasion,” Onek said.

He said areas most hit by hunger include Katakwi, Amuria, Soroti,  Bukedea and Kumi; all in the Teso sub-region. Other regions in dire food aid include Karamoja that is perennially food insecure, Lango, Acholi, West Nile, parts of eastern, central and western Uganda.

“We have been trying to address it [hunger crisis] but the problem is too big. That’s why we have appealed for help and so far China has given us some rice.” Onek said.

Speaking to The Observer by telephone from Kumi, Adoa Apedel, the LC-III chairman for Kumi division in Kumi municipality, called on government to expand the scope of people receiving food aid.

He said almost everybody in the district has been affected. He said people who had some food have shared it with their neighbors who were on the verge of starvation.

“Relief food hasn’t reached my area but I have been invited to Kumi district headquarters for a meeting on how the food is going to be distributed. However, I have been told that it’s mainly for the elderly, those on medication and child-headed families but almost all of us including leaders have been affected,” he said. 

Adoa added that hunger has also adversely affected livestock in the area as people sell them cheaply in order to buy food.

“Beef prices have fallen from Shs10,000 to Shs5,000 per kilo as people are selling their animals to buy cassava or maize flour; that’s how bad it is,” he said.

More than five million people are said to be adversely affected by hunger as a result of change in weather patterns that saw much of the crops dry up. Parliament last week was informed by the ministry of finance that money meant for local council elections was diverted to buy food for the most affected areas.