[Hpn] Thousands Left Homeless By Fires In Northern IDP Camps

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 24 Jan 2005 11:49:50 -0500


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UGANDA: Thousands left homeless by fires in northern IDP camps
24 Jan 2005

KAMPALA, 24 January (IRIN) - Three people have been killed and 30,000 left
homeless following a wave of fires that struck a number of camps for
internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Uganda, relief workers said
on Monday.
"Three people, two of them children, were killed in the fires," Eliane
Duthoit, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(OCHA) in Uganda, told IRIN.
The most devastating fire hit Acet IDP camp, 44 km east of the regional
capital, Gulu. An estimated 4,050 grass-thatched huts were burnt down,
destroying all property and food stored in them.
"Six out of seven zones in the [Acet] camp were completely destroyed. We are
asking the people and the government to put in place some fire-breaks
because we cannot go on like this," Duthoit added.
Earlier reports from local leaders suggested that at least nine people,
eight of them children, were killed when the fire swept through the camp on
Saturday, but relief workers could only confirm three deaths.
Another fire destroyed 1,548 huts in Lira on Friday. According to relief
workers, other fires were reported in Keyo and Cope camps in Gulu, where 200
and 50 huts were destroyed respectively. Gulu is 380 km north of the Ugandan
capital, Kampala.
Andrew Timpson, head of OCHA in Gulu, told IRIN: "The destruction has been
extensive. The people have lost everything including food and non-food
items. Children in Acet are sleeping in the school."
Timpson, however, said several agencies had arrived in the region to provide
relief to the IDPs.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Uganda Red Cross
had by Monday started distributing relief supplies to 1,548 families. "We
are distributing tarpaulin, utensils and jerrycans in Agweng in Lira, and we
hope to start doing the same in other affected camps," the ICRC spokesman in
Kampala, Juan Carlos Carrera, told IRIN.
The Ugandan Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness, Aporu Amongin, told
IRIN that a government team had gone to the region to assess the situation.
She added that there were plans to prevent fires from recurring in the
camps.
"The camps mushroomed haphazardly and they were not planned," the minister
said. "We want, during reconstruction of the huts, to provide for
fire-breaks so that the problem is not recurring. We will make sure that the
fireplaces are not so close to the huts."
Describing the origins of the fire in Ngai in neighbouring Apac District,
where 283 huts were burnt, the minister said a child who was preparing to
cook a meal had started the fire that eventually destroyed the camp.
"Because it is dry and windy, the wind blew the fire from her hands and a
nearby hut went into flames along with others," Amongin said.
The camps are home to thousands of people displaced by the 18-year old war
between the Ugandan government and the rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army
(LRA). More than 1.6 million people have been forced out of their homes by
the protracted war.
The LRA has been at war with the government since 1988. Notorious for their
brutality, LRA rebels have often raided villages and IDP camps to kidnap
children living there, either to force them to fight in its ranks, or into
sexual slavery.
Efforts to end the rebellion through peaceful means have thus far met with
little success.
On Monday the Uganda army claimed to have captured a senior rebel commander,
Brigadier Michael Acellam-Odong. Odong was captured along with two wives and
children of LRA leader Joseph Kony.
"They were in a hide out; we surprised them, killed one rebel, recovered
guns and a VHF radio," Uganda People's Defence Force spokesman, Maj Shaban
Bantariza, told IRIN.