Aid workers tend Somali refugees in Kenya camp

Published July 14, 2011

Corn planted with the hope of rain; now dry and dying in fields across east Kenya. Photo: ACT/NCA/Laurie MacGregor

Nairobi, Kenya—Christian agencies are stepping up interventions in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, where about 1,500 drought-stricken Somali migrants are arriving daily.

"Most of the people arriving are dehydrated and very hungry. Many lack clothing and are barefoot," said Lennart Hernander, a representative of the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) Department for World Service, on 13 July. The influx to the LWF-managed camp increased early this year due to prolonged drought and insecurity in Somalia, and now about 360,000 people are at the camp, humanitarian officials said.

UNICEF has called the Somalia drought and refugee crisis "the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world." The Red Cross has said that one in 10 children in southern Somalia suffer from acute malnutrition.

The LWF, working with other agencies, is putting up temporary structures where assessment of the most vulnerable will be conducted. It has bought nine tons of flour mix to feed children and elderly who may be too weak to eat dry food. It is also bringing to the camp a 7,000-litre water truck, in addition to other partners providing water.

The World Food Programme said it is giving each person a 15-day dry food ration together with cooking pots, mats, jerry cans and plastic sheets.

"People were saying they left because they did not have enough to eat. They had to sell off their cattle one by one until they had none left … they realized they would not survive and … went to the camp," Sarah Wilson, who visited the camp as part of a Christian Aid team, told ENInews in a telephone interview.

People talked of a whole community leaving, walking with their neighbours to reach the camp, said Wilson. They had walked on average of 15 days to the camp, according to LWF.

"When the people started arriving, the camp was already full at 90,000.We are now talking about 360,000. This more than the camp can easily cope with," said Moses Mukwana, LWF’s Dadaab project coordinator in interview from the camp.

On 13 July, Christian Aid urged the Kenya government to open another camp, Ifo II, to decongest the settlement. The camp initially built to absorb an overflow from Dadaab currently stands empty complete with new water tanks, lavatories and health care facilities.

"It is essential that the new camp is opened up as soon as possible as part of the urgent humanitarian response to the worsening situation affecting both those arriving in camps and communities across the region," Nick Guttmann of Christian Aid’s humanitarian division was quoted in the media as saying after visiting Dadaab.

The government has cited security concerns and feared increased arrivals if it opens the camp, but Mukwana said, "I think if this people are put in an organized camp, which has proper administration and proper management, it is easier to manage security related matters."

According to media reports, Kenyan Prime Minster Raila Odinga subsequently said it would be allowed to open.


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