AIRD – providing development solutions to communities in Africa

By Denise Nanni and Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following our interview with Musarait of the African Initiatives for Relief & Development, working for the support of communities in Uganda and other African countries. We asked Musarait about the main obstacles to development in Uganda. And we talked about the main activities of AIRD in refugee camps.  
What are the main development and economic issues in Uganda today?
The economy of Uganda has great potential for growth but is hindered by many challenges.
Uganda’s economy is weak due to the following reasons:
Uganda is a land locked country located in East Africa. The geographical location puts the country at a disadvantage compared to its coastal neighbours when competing in global markets. Uganda also has to bear high transportation costs while importing and exporting goods over long distances on land.
The country faces high levels of unemployment, an issue that is affecting the mostly the youth. In 2015, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics revealed that 64% of the total unemployed persons were the youth aged between 18-30 years. This is hampering the growth of the economy since most of the able bodied, youthful men and women are not contributing to the development of the country in terms of labour.
The industrial growth in Uganda is moving at a snail’s speed, another contributing factor to high levels of unemployment. More industries in the country would create job opportunities for some of the unemployed youth. The low level of industrialization makes the country heavily dependent on imports while exporting less, resulting in huge trade deficits.
Transport and infrastructure also make a fundamental contribution to the growth of an economy. Uganda’s infrastructure and road network is developed only in the city centres such as Kampala, Jinja, Entebbe, Mbarara, Mbale, Arua and other towns. People in the remote areas still face challenges in accessing services such as health, education and markets as a result of poor road networks.
Additionally, Uganda is predominantly an agricultural country but this is one of the least developed sectors. Failure by the government to modernize agriculture and prioritize it as a major cash cow for the country has also greatly contributed to the stagnation of the country’s economy. 
Agriculture is still viewed as an activity for the informal sector which is comprised of the illiterate who still use rudimentary tools for farming and practice subsistence farming. This is being done on a large scale as opposed to commercial farming that would contribute to the growth of economy.
In recent years, Uganda also had to shelter many refugees and asylum seekers due to the ongoing conflicts in neighbouring states of DRC, South Sudan, Burundi, and Somalia. At the same time, Uganda has a high population growth rate but with limited resources. The addition of refugees and asylum seekers in the country has out stretched the resources. 
The situation is worsening because of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan that started in 2015 forcing many South Sudanese to seek refuge in Uganda. The number of new arrivals into the country is increasing daily because of the famine resulting from the prolonged war.
What are the events that brought to the foundation of AIRD and what are its activities?
African Initiatives for Relief and Development was established with an objective of offering relief aid and development solutions to persons of concern. The refugee situation in Africa has been surging as a result of armed conflicts, wars, and natural disasters in various African states. This created a service gap and there weren’t many credible organizations to provide emergency response and meet the needs of the persons of concern. Armoured with vast experience in disaster management three visionaries of AIRD are Mathias Temesgen, Gizaw Shibru, and Menna Tewahade. And they established AIRD to provide quality and timely services to the persons of concern.
AIRD started with one country program in Uganda but has grown and expanded to providing similar services to persons of concern in 9 countries in Africa. They include: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. For 10 years now, AIRD has worked towards achieving this objective, constantly looking for ways to serve better and meet the needs of all the targeted beneficiaries. This has been possible due to the good relationships AIRD has fostered with partners and the respective governments in the countries of operation. The organization is also working towards extension of its expertise in other African countries faced with the refugee crisis.
AIRD specializes in provision of logistical support, supply chain management and construction and infrastructure in camps and refugee settlements. This involves the following activities:
Warehousing: AIRD is responsible for the safe keeping and storage of NFIs and food items.  This involves carrying out regular fumigation, ensuring the warehouses are kept clean, and professional staff are in place to manage and maintain the facilities.
Fuel management: AIRD monitors and evaluates the operation of fuel stations and fuel consumption assets used by UNHCR and partners during operations. This also involves fuel distribution and training of staff to manage the fuelling system efficiently.
Transport management: The organization ensures that various suitable means of transport are availed to transport the NFI’s, partner staff and any other items. The fleet includes, trucks, light vehicles such as buses, motor bikes and boats.
Workshop management: It is through this activity, AIRD maintains and manages workshops in various areas of operation to provide general and regular maintenance of vehicles and other items such as generators.
Construction and infrastructure: AIRD has a highly experienced team of construction experts and engineers responsible for the construction, development and rehabilitation of different community infrastructure. This includes: roads, shelters, boreholes, schools, markets, health centres, nutrition shelters, offices among other infrastructures.
Drug management: AIRD has a drug management system in place to facilitate the procurement, storage, and distribution of drugs to designated health centres caring for persons of concern. This activity is mainly implemented in Uganda.
Voluntary repatriation and reintegration: AIRD facilitates the return of refugees to countries of origin and resettlement for those that have been granted asylum. The organization ensures safe transportation and management of transit centres, providing hot meals and accommodation until the refugees arrive at their destination.
WASH: AIRD has constructed boreholes in different camps and settlements to provide the persons of concern with clean water. AIRD also carries out water treatment, trucking and distribution in areas where water sources are hard to reach.   
As per the organization’s strategic plan to diversify to other services like livelihood, environment and WASH ,some of programs are already engaged in provision of these services. In Tanzania, AIRD is currently implementing a livelihood project funded by Australian Aid, in Liberia last year, AIRD had a tree planting project and another was carried out in Lusenda camp in DRC.
How do you select the communities where you intervene? Do you establish local partnerships?
AIRD focuses on helping persons of concern by providing them with development solutions to the challenges they face through various activities we are engaged in. We respond to calls requiring our expertise. This is done especially in refugee camps and settlements.
Yes, we have local partnerships starting from the line ministries in the different countries we work in. This is done to understand how the different countries work to ease the delivery of services to the beneficiaries.
AIRD also understands the need to involve the affected communities in the implementation process of the different projects. Local community leaders are engaged at different stages of the work to ensure that the activities AIRD provides meet their urgent needs.
At what level do you cooperate with UNHCR?
We have been an implementing partner of UNHCR for 10 years now. This is because of the strong partnership AIRD has established with UNHCR. AIRD has been able to maintain this relationship through its core values of good internal governance, transparency, accountability, professionalism sustainability, partnership, and innovation.
Do you cooperate with local authorities and institutions? If yes, how?
AIRD cooperates with local authorities. We acknowledge that policies on persons of interest differ with different countries and this calls for an understanding with the respective government ministries. At the government level, we engage with these authorities on policy, our work and the intended impact. This helps us understand the needs of the targeted communities and how best they can be met.  At local levels, AIRD also engages with the community leadership to determine the immediate needs of the affected population.