Fire in IDP Camp in Northern Uganda the Worst in Years
Wednesday, 26 January 2005 00:00

A quick-moving fire ravaged a camp for internally displaced people in the Northern region of Uganda, in the Gulu district. Below is a letter informing AVSI country director, Dr. Ciantia, of the results of the latest damage assessment. AVSI, together with the other NGOs working in the camp and the region, have responded with joint efforts to address the immediate needs of the habitants of Acet Camp.

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Dr. Ciantia,

This is just to comment briefly on the damages incurred in the fire at Acet Camp on Saturday, January 22nd.

In short, it was arguably the most disastrous of the many fires that occur annually during this season in the IDP Camps. Initial reports Saturday indicated 100 huts burned, camp leaders cited 4,037 huts burned on our visit Sunday, while an ICRC assessment on Monday, January 24th found 1,500 huts burned. It is the opinion of our office that the last figure of 1,500 is most likely the most accurate and is the figure currently being used by all agencies in their response.

The difference between this fire and others, however, and what makes it more damaging, is that the fire swept through the camp in a matter of hours, leaving residents no time to salvage anything. Thus, the impression in moving through the camp and on brief examination of the huts burned is that most people lost everything they owned. We found only the remains of melted jerry cans, destroyed cooking pots, and the ashes of what little food the people had stored. Moreover, several small businesses (kiosks) were destroyed with all their merchandise inside. And it must be kept in mind that whatever few possessions the people in camps have, they are essential for their survival and are not luxury items (jerry cans for collecting water, pots for storing water, pots for cooking, bags of food, and bedding). Finally, several sanitation facilities (latrines) were destroyed and piles of ash remain scattered throughout the camp, both posing potential health risks.

Despite the overwhelming destruction, though, residents on Sunday were already collecting whatever grass and poles they could find to rebuild their homes. We found piles of grass for roofs, several young children carrying poles, and that the camp leader had opened the school buildings as temporary shelter for victims of the fire. So as much as there is a tremendous sense of loss and misfortune, there is also a tangible atmosphere of perseverance and reconstruction. With some assistance from WFP (who is set to deliver food today), ICRC (NFIs), ACF and World Vision (sanitation), and AVSI (support to the Health Unit), we are confident that the people of Acet will soon be on their feet again. Unfortunately, as I write this, we have just received word that another fire has broken out in Acet, so we will communicate further as information becomes available.

Greetings to all in Kampala.