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The Japanese government has donated Ug.Shs3.6 billion worth of rice to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to assist people at risk in Uganda, including 1.5 million displaced persons sheltered in congested camps north of the country.

The gift, 2,600 tons of rice pledged by Tokyo last year, arrived at WFP's warehouse in Nalukolongo, Kampala this month.

"All people around the world have a right to live in peace and dignity," the Japanese Ambassador to Uganda Mr. Ryuzo Kikuchi said at a thank you ceremony at Nalukolongo today. "It is our conviction that the assistance we provide to WFP has helped to ease the worries and has restored a semblance of dignity of the people who are not in position to meet their food and nutritional requirements."

The ambassador said that in the last five years, Japan has supported WFP Uganda with over US$2 million (Ug.Shs3.6 billion) annually.

"I am pleased to note that WFP is utilising this assistance in a transparent and accountable manner to save the lives of the unfortunate Ugandans who stay in IDP camps, the refugees and the people of Karamoja," he said.

WFP Uganda's Representative and Country Director, Mr. Ken Davies, thanked Japan for its assistance in 2005, nearly $2.6m in cash and kind. He said the support would enable WFP to continue assisting IDPs, as well as other vulnerable people including 12,000 Congolese refugees who entered Uganda this month.

"WFP has been able to reduce rations in the IDP camps in the three Acholi districts for able-bodied households to 60 percent, with effect from January 2006, " Davies said, "However, the more than half of a human being's minimal kilocalorie requirement (of 2,100 kilocalories per person per day) will need to continue to be provided from external sources. "

A 19-year conflict generated by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has forced 1.5 million people to flee their homes and farms across northern Uganda. Insecurity prevents them from accessing land far beyond the periphery of the camps, leaving 90 percent of them, mostly women and children, dependent on WFP's food and nutritional assistance.

Elsewhere, WFP supports a steady inflow of Congolese fleeing ethnic fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Last week, WFP assisted nearly 12,000 refugees who arrived from the DRC, with high protein biscuits and relief rations. In addition, WFP supports the world's largest caseload of Southern Sudanese refugees (nearly 170,000).

WFP supports Karamoja, a region that suffers chronic drought and the lowest development indicators countrywide.

WFP in partnership with the Office of the Prime Minister and district leaders, assisted 3.2 million people in 2005 (1.5 million IDPs; 600,000 drought affected people in Karamoja and West Nile; 435,000 school children; 219,000 refugees; 260,000 people involved in asset-creation and skills training in post-conflict areas; 97,000 malnourished children and pregnant and nursing women; 115,000 HIV/AIDS-affected people and 15,000 street children and orphans).

In 2006, WFP plans to feed 3 million people including 1.5 million IDPs; 170,000 refugees; 570,000 school children; and 230,000 malnourished children and mothers reached through supplementary and therapeutic feeding and the new Maternal Child Health programme.

In all its programmes, WFP aims to put food on the table of the weakest and poorest and to help these people eventually secure food and an income by themselves, so they can break out of the poverty trap and build sustainable futures.

Whenever the situation allows, WFP buys the food it distributes in Uganda locally in order to support the Ugandan economy and to reduce WFP's transport costs. In 2005, WFP bought 170,000 tons of food worth US$40 million within Uganda. Eighty percent of this was distributed in Uganda and the rest for WFP programmes in Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC.

"As the national Poverty Eradication Action Plan is built on small holder production for the commercial market, it would be fair to say that WFP purchases are a major support to the national PEAP," Ken Davies said.

"WFP is also working with partners to develop the ability of farmers' groups to participate in the commercial market," he added. "I am pleased to say that WFP signed contracts with over 50 farmer groups in 2005."

Ambassador Ryuzo commended WFP for its Food for Education programme, which supports school children with nutritious meals and assists communities build school infrastructure to ensure a child-friendly learning environment.

"In Japan, education has played a crucial role in the industrialisation and development of our country in the past 50 years. In order for Uganda to provide proper education to generation that will soon determine the country's destiny, I feel that there is an urgent need to ensure that they enrol and stay in school. This can be done partly by ensuring that they have sufficient meals while at school." Ryuzo said.

In addition to logistical support from the Uganda Government, WFP Uganda in 2005 received donations from: the United States (US$48 million); the United Kingdom (US$ 9.5 million); European Union (US$7 million); Sweden (US$7 million); Netherlands (US$6.6 million); Norway (US$4 million); Canada (US$3.8 million); Ireland (US$2.7 million); Japan (US$2.6 million); France (US$ 2.5 million); multilateral donors (US$ 2 million); Switzerland (US$1.8 million); Australia (US$1.5 million); Belgium (US$1.3 million); Italy (US$1.2 million); Austria (US$ 410,000); Finland (US$ 390,000); Telecom Italia (US$60, 412); Uganda (US$59,500): online private donors (US$8,000); Fight Hunger - Walk the World (US$2,800).