By Elizabeth Ampairwe.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) recently released the 2019/20 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS), the seventh in a series of household surveys conducted by UBOS. We, at the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) whose work revolves around the pursuit of a fair and equitable society for both men and women, always look forward to these surveys because they are a useful source of socio-economic data; and such data is used in the generation of key indicators with particular focus on household welfare. As it is said, the devil is in the details.

Accordingly, we note that the findings in the 2019/2020 National Household Survey paint a bleak picture of a country that requires robust government interventions.

What has been clear since the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is that household incomes have been severely hurt, anti-poverty gains achieved over the past 10 years have been erased while livelihoods have suffered a devastating blow.

Containment and mitigation measures meant to curb the spread of the deadly virus have exacerbated the situation.

From the findings of the National Household Survey, perhaps the most damning revelation is that the incidence of income poverty increased during Covid-19 from 19 % to 22%. The increase in poverty was more pronounced in rural areas especially in Karamoja, Acholi, Bukedi, and Busoga sub-region. The number of poor people increased from 8 million to 8.3 million.

More worrying is the fact that there is a poverty spillover from urban to rural areas because of declining remittances.

Put simply, because incomes for urban dwellers have been eaten into by the pandemic, they no longer can afford to remit money to their relatives in the villages-effectively locking them further in poverty.

Some studies have found out that such a type of spillover increases the national poverty rate by 1.4 and 1.3 percentage points in urban and rural areas, respectively – accounting for about one-third of the crisis’ total impact on poverty.

From the Household survey, it is rather concerning that sub-regions that have historically been affected by economic disparities are faring worse. The majority of the poor people are in Busoga (14%) followed by Bukedi (10.4%) and Acholi (10.3%) sub-region.

The Acholi sub-region suffered decades of the insurgency while Busoga has long been ravaged by famine and fluctuating sugar cane prices.

The National Household Survey is pretty much representative because it provides representative estimates for the country as a whole across the rural-urban and regional divide.

Poverty increased in Acholi from 33% in 2017 to 68% in 2020, Ankole from 7% to 12%, Karamoja from 60% to 66%, Kigezi from 12% to 28%, Tooro from 11% to 13% and North Buganda from 11% to 14%.

Other sub-groups were considered during data analysis and these included: Comparison of the situation before and during Covid-19 pandemic, Peace and Recovery Development Plan (PRDP) Districts, and Mountainous Districts.

Some other indicators show that things are not getting any better.
What is even more concerning is the gap between the women and men of this country. In literacy rates for persons aged 18 years and above, females still lag with 66% compared to males who are at 67%.

Overall, seven in every ten households in 2019/20 used firewood for cooking. Though unstated in the survey, most of the cooking using firewood is likely done by women with its attendant health dangers like indoor air pollution.

For instance, health insurance coverage is at 4%, down from 5% in 2019. To alleviate the effects of poverty, the government must put in place social safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable from further sliding into destitution.

The intervention by the government led to the distribution of Shs. 100,000 to vulnerable persons in urban municipalities should be commended. However, that was a drop in the ocean.

At a macro-level, government needs to engage commercial banks to restructure loan payments and save stressed businesses and individuals from collapse.

These and more interventions are necessary to help the country’s populace overcome the challenges that abound and ensure long-term socio-economic stability.

Elizabeth Ampairwe is the Director of Programs at Forum for Women in Democracy.

A version of this article was published by on 20th August 2021