MANAFWA – She is aged 26 but looks like a 60-year-old woman Ms Hanna Wakooli, lives in an unheated dry banana fibre thatched house and can’t even afford a meal a day.
Her meal is usually made up of leftover items given to her by her neighbours or picked from the dustbins of her neighbours.
Pictures of a haggard Wakooli standing next to her child at Kiwata village, Bugobero sub-county in Manafwa district brings tears to my eyes.
Wakooli, 26, a mother of five who looks frail seems to be getting weaker every day but says she is well with a twinge of poverty and sadness written on her face.
As the storm gathers, she is gripped with more fear when she remembers that the only semi-permanent shelter that serves as her house can’t shelter them from the heavy storm and rains.
Her Banana fibre thatched, mud and wattle house does not only leak but it is dilapidated with the sticks used for building it, seen from outside, it is also bent because it has stood a long time without being repaired and risks collapsing.
Behind the house is a banana plantation; an almost dead silence only interrupted by birds chirping and distant noise from wild trees in the area.
This is Wakooli’s home were more than five people, with children infested with Jiggers converge to live. It serves as a kitchen, store, chicken house, living room and a bedroom for Ms Wakooli, her five children and her husband who has taken on drinking alcohol from morning to evening.
Ms Wakooli’s family is just one of the rural families living conditions of the worst off those who live in extreme poverty.
Throughout most rural families, thousands of children struggle daily with a humbling consequence of poverty: inadequate clothing.
At a time when families strive to keep up with social norms that say what you wear is a statement about who you are, attending school in ragged clothes is often embarrassing and can hinder learning.
The worn-out, torn clothes on Wakooli’s body exposing her breasts is one visible sign of the poverty that afflicts multitudes across the country, who commonly go hungry and are sickly.
In Uganda, a country in which there seems to be no available bridge in the gap between the rich and poor, the likelihood of most Ugandans emerging from the pit of abject poverty is also diminishing.
In fact, Ugandans are poorer today than they were ten years ago, with the most vulnerable groups being single mothers, crop agriculturists, slum dwellers and peasants.
A report by GlobalGiving titled; Improve livelihood for rural farmers in Uganda says the rural livelihood remains very poor and that most rural farmers survive on less than USD1 a day.
GlobalGiving is 501 non-profit organization based in the United States that provides a global crowdfunding platform for grassroots charitable projects.
In rural areas of Uganda, women are the worst hit by chronic poverty, they are the most illiterate, the most involved in ungainful employment or work where they don’t get paid and bear the brunt of bringing up children and ensuring they go to school.
The Uganda National Panel Survey released in November 2019 indicated that 8.4 percent, which represents 338,520 of the about 40.3 million Ugandans slipped into poverty in the 2018/19 financial year.
The findings released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) also indicated that 4.5 percent of Ugandans in urban areas have slipped back into poverty compared to 10.4 percent in rural areas. This according to Ubos requires a deeper analysis to understand why many Ugandans are slipping back into poverty.
The findings come at the time another survey by Twaweza’s flagship Sauti za Wananchi survey on citizens’ views on poverty and livelihoods, including food security, has also presented data indicating that three out of ten citizens (29%) cited poverty or the rich-poor gap as the most serious problem facing Ugandans today more than any other issue.
The data from citizens also cited corruption (13%) and a lack of employment (12%) and that the most-named issue from 2017 – health – now ranks in fourth place, cited by half as many citizens in late 2018 (8%) compared to late 2017 (16%).
The data presented here comes from Twaweza’s flagship Sauti za Wananchi survey, a nationally-representative, high-frequency mobile phone panel survey of public opinion and citizens’ experiences.
The Twaweza’s; New Sauti za Wananchi survey further confirms that there is still a wide income inequality between men and women with the latter earning lesser and that with widening inequality, the women are concentrated in the lower quintiles of the poor.
The data further states that four out of five households (81%) say the income obtained by their household is not enough to cover household expenses on a daily basis.
“On average, households say they require UGZ 10,300 per day to meet their needs – 9,700 in rural areas and 11,800 in urban areas, and 9,100 in poorer households and 12,300 in wealthier households,” reads the data from Sauti za Wananchi survey.
The ICCO Cooperation report for 2019 also says that moreover, the gap between rich and poor is growing, many people, and young people not in the least, are excluded from economic and social opportunities and that there basic human rights are denied.
ICCO Cooperation is a global, non-governmental organization and works towards a world in which people can live in dignity and well-being, a world without poverty and injustice.
The executive director Research World International [RWI] Dr Patrick Wakida said the survey reflects the poorest of the poor are still in rural areas and the conditions are getting worse even when we are talking about getting to a middle-income economy.
‘This survey is spot on, we can’t deny that people are living under poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing daily. This is true and the government must find a way of fixing this but not to just talk about moving into the middle-income status,” said Dr Wakida.
The Sauti za Wananchi survey also says that the citizens cited economic issues such as unemployment and inflation as a bigger concern than public services health, education and water and that Households were less likely to suffer food stress in 2018 than in 2017.
Mr John Nambeshe, the MP for Manjiya County in Bududa district described the data from Sauti za Wananchi as timely and a wakeup call for the government to start engaging citizens and empowering them to understand how to run profitable businesses to improve their livelihood.
“And I think creating entrepreneurs and wealth among communities is the first step to fight poverty by government and not to merely give up money to individuals to fight poverty because this increases the inequality in the country,” said Mr Nambeshe.
He added that the government should use the data to instill confidence in the public in their fight against corruption because corruption in the country is endemic and it is eating into the taxes and widening economic inequalities.
Ms Rose Lilly Akello, the Woman MP for Karenga district said poverty levels are increasing at very alarming rates and that the data from Sauti za Wananchi, gives a timely report that must be followed by the government.
“Our voters in our constituencies want to hear answers of how the government intends to curb corruption, end poverty, how the government will end the economic gap between the poor and the rich, these are pertinent questions which the survey brings out,” said Ms Akello.
Uganda put in place a comprehensive framework for poverty reduction known as the poverty eradication action plan (PEAP) and a subcomponent of the PEAP, the plan for the modernization of agriculture (PMA) was designed to address the goal of reducing poverty in rural areas but to date the number of the poor keeps growing.
A paper entitled; Livelihoods and Rural Poverty Reduction in Uganda by Mr Frank Ellis and Mr Godfrey Bahiigwa say research findings from rural areas show that rural poverty is strongly associated with lack of land and livestock, as well as inability to secure nonfarm alternatives to diminishing farm opportunities.
Ms Esther Wastsikwi, the Mbale district Women council chairperson says that challenges of addressing rural poverty, while also feeding a growing national population in the face of increasing scarcities of land and water and further climate change are profound.
She revealed that poverty remains an entrenched problem in Uganda even when economic growth has held steady at around 5% in recent years.
“To make sure it happens, the government must develop the agricultural sector and ensure more is invested in rural communities where the majority poor live,” said Ms Wastsikwi.
But Mr David Bahati, the state minister of Planning, while launching a Sauti za Wananchi survey report last year maintained that the government has many plans for fighting poverty amongst Ugandans.
“And this time we don’t want to just to be doing planning. We want to implement the plans and those criticizing us should just join us and show us how to better implement our plans,” he said