In Karamoja, one of Uganda’s poorest regions, anxious mothers clutch bone-thin infants in a malnutrition ward, terrified their child could be the next to succumb to starvation.
One of Maria Logiel’s youngsters, too weak to sit up, bears telltale skin lesions caused by extreme hunger. The other, strapped to her back, stares gauntly from sunken eyes.
“I came with these two because they were badly off, and going to die,” Logiel told AFP at a hospital in Karamoja, a vast and isolated northeastern border region afflicted by drought, disease and armed bands. “(But) I left two others home, and I worry that by the time I get back, they’ll be no more,” the 30-year-old mother said.
More than half a million people are going hungry in Karamoja, approximately 40 percent of the population of this neglected, long-suffering rural region between South Sudan and Kenya.
Natural disasters, plagues of locusts and armyworms, and raids by heavily armed cattle thieves have left little to eat.
As food has become ever more scarce, Karamoja’s most vulnerable residents are struggling to survive.
“In three months we have lost more than 25 children under five due to the malnutrition,” said Doctor Sharif Nalibe, the district health officer in Kaabong, one of Karamoja’s worst-hit districts. “And these were the ones under our care, but (who) were brought at the last minute to the hospital. But there are many who die and (are) not reported in the communities.”
Starvation in Karamoja is going largely unnoticed as higher-profile crises, including looming famine in the Horn of Africa, and the war in Ukraine, compel global attention.
Even in Uganda, the desperation is out of sight, unfolding 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the capital, Kampala, in a part of the country long written off as harsh and volatile.
Across the region, about 91,600 children and 9,500 pregnant or breastfeeding women are suffering from acute malnutrition and need treatment, according to the latest assessment by humanitarian agencies.