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Children stand and pose for a picture in front of a red wall built by the IRC.
Legacy of war

Uganda Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to Ugandans who are rebuilding from decades of war while hosting a growing influx of refugees.

What's happening

  • Thousands of desperate people fleeing violence in South Sudan have been crossing into Uganda each day since July. Some 86% are women and children, many with reports of armed groups forcing men and boys into their ranks.

  • The IRC is providing lifesaving health care and other emergency assistance to these new arrivals in Bidibidi, in Uganda's northern Yumbe district. We are also providing women survivors of violence with medical attention, counseling and legal support.

  • In just a few months, Bidibidi has become one of the world's largest refugee settlements (pop. 221,674 as of Nov 15). The IRC warns that families urgently require cash relief and jobs to help them meet their daily needs.

Country facts
  • Population: 37.58 million
  • Number of refugees: 538,252
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 163 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Uganda: 1998
  • People assisted: Almost 1.2 million

Uganda crisis briefing

Uganda, located in East Africa, spent decades in the grip of violent conflict before becoming host to the third largest influx of refugees in Africa. The IRC helps vulnerable Ugandans recover from war and safely rebuild their communities.

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What caused the current crisis in Uganda?

In 1998, rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) began terrorizing Uganda, killing tens of thousands and displacing more than 1 million people. Many Ugandans ended up living in camps that lacked food, clean water and sanitation. Thousands of children also fell victim to the war, abducted by rebel groups to serve as fighters.

Following a peace agreement in 2006, Ugandans have been working to rebuild their lives and restore their communities. Many families, schools, clinics and markets were destroyed after decades of conflict.

Uganda is also hosting over half a million refugees fleeing violence in neighboring countries such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. While refugees have the right to work in Uganda and may travel within the country as they choose, the growing influx of new arrivals is straining health services and other resources.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Uganda?

Uganda is still recovering from decades of war. Over 8 million Ugandans continue to live in poverty, and children are often taken out of school to work and support the family. Women, in particular, remain vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The country's poorest region, Karamoja, has a long history of conflict between warring clans and violence against women and girls. Many rural communities suffer from lack of food, health care and education services. Without adequate access to clean water, many Ugandans remain vulnerable to diseases such as AIDS, TB and malaria. According to UNAIDS data, 360 new HIV infections occur per week in Uganda among adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 years old.

Uganda's approach to hosting refugees by integrating them into local communities means that the rising influx is putting a strain on health services, water systems and other local infrastucture. Many people face difficulty in getting adequate health care.

How does the IRC help in Uganda?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Uganda in 1998 to help the 1.8 million Ugandans who had been forced to flee their homes as a result of the LRA conflict. We have been committed to protecting women and children from violence and exploitation, and helping communities rebuild. As a growing number of South Sudanese refugees  fled to Uganda, we also began working in two of the main settlements hosting them.

As the country struggles to recover from the effects of war and host a growing population of refugees, the IRC is focusing our efforts in the Adjumani and Kiryandongo districts as well as the Acholi and Karamoja sub-regions by:

  • providing women with resources and services to assure their safety, health and financial independence;
  • helping farmers and small-business owners succeed, linking them to markets and credit for their businesses;
  • teaching youth business skills, linking them to apprenticeship opportunities and providing them with seed grants for business initiatives;
  • providing medical equipment, training health care workers, and educating communities to improve sanitation;
  • teaching local community members to diagnose and treat common illnesses and make referrals to health centers;
  • ensuring all children are immunized, by deploying new mobile app technologies and community engagement strategies.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s work in Uganda is more critical than ever as Ugandans remain vulnerable to disaster and conflict, and refugees continue to seek safety in the country. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis, specifically women and girls, at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in health, education and economic well-being. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to work with those affected by conflict and natural disaster, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas. We’ll also continue to support vulnerable refugees and host communities, expanding our work in refugee settlements in West Nile.

IRC teams and partners currently reach more than 1,184,492 people in Uganda with lifesaving support. Through 2020, our work will focus on the following areas:


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. The IRC will continue to use proven strategies -- such as recruiting and training community health workers -- to reach even more people with healthcare. We will continue ensure that women and adolescent girls are protected from and treated for complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 


Adults and youth should have access to quality educational resources; they should be able to develop age-appropriate literacy, numeracy, and social and emotional skills. The IRC will provide refugees with the skills and resources they need to find success in the workplace. We will also ensure that women and girls are equal to men and boys in literacy and numeracy, social and emotional, and livelihood skills.

Economic wellbeing

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. With poverty levels still high in Uganda, the IRC will support communities by providing business skills and start-up grants. We will also focus on creating job and career opportunities for women, and helping them address money management issues at home.


Download the IRC's Uganda strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

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