A Somali child waits with others to register for aid in the Ifo refugee camp in North Eastern Province, near the Kenya-Somalia border.
UNICEF writer Michael Klaus reports back from the refugee camps in Kenya.
DADAAB, KENYA – It was a difficult decision, but in the end Hawa Issak decided to leave her home, The drought had destroyed her
entire family's livelihood, her husband had left her and she was pregnant. She
did not see any future in Gedo region of Southern Somalia for her or her unborn
baby, so she joined the 420 km trek together with 6 other families, hoping to
find help in neighbouring Kenya. They walked for 28 days in the blistering heat and
dust until finally they reached Dadaab.
Dadaab was once a small village in Eastern Kenya
that has become home to the biggest refugee camp in the world. (Read a photo story about Dadaab.)
Heavy winds are hauling through the open
fields of Dadaab. Children's faces are covered with dust and everyone is having difficulties to breath and talk. Animal cadavers are lying between dry bushes:
It's not easy for anyone or anything to survive in such a blistering
The three camps in Dadaab - Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley - were set up years ago to cater for the steady flow of refugees fleeing the fighting and insecurity in neighboring Somalia which has been going on for over 20 years. Originally planned to house a maximum of 90,000 refugees, Dadaab has grown into becoming the third biggest settlement in Kenya, after the capital Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa. The population of the camp has swelled to a massive 380,000 people, almost all of them living in makeshift tents. Between January and June, more than 60,000 new refugees have arrived. Since the end of last month there has been another steep increase, making the situation largely unimaginable.
Elhadj As Sy, the UNICEF Regional Director for the Eastern and Southern Africa Region, recently visited the camps.
Women and children hardest hit
"Looking around, we mainly see women and children" he said."They are again the ones that are hardest hit by this triple shock of drought - which is related to climate change - soaring food prices and the armed conflict in Somalia.
People went through so many hardships to get here. They are in very bad
shape. It's really humbling and sobering to be here."
The refugees in Dadaab, however, are only
part of a much larger problem. Due to two consecutive failed rainy seasons,
price increases of up to 200 per cent for some staple foods, as well as the
escalating fighting in Somalia, the Horn of Africa is facing one of the most
severe food crises in the world today.
More than 10 million people are currently
in need of humanitarian assistance in the three countries. Among them are more
than 2 million children under the age of five who are suffering from
malnutrition, including 500,000 who are severely malnourished, a
life-threatening condition that needs urgent treatment. A child who is severely
malnourished is 9 times more likely to die than a healthy child.
UNICEF is providing therapeutic food to
those most at risk. The most severe cases receive therapeutic milk to stabilize
their medical condition. After three or four days, the milk usually can be
substituted by Plumpy Nut, a high-energy peanut paste which helps them recover
over the following weeks. Some, however, reach the hospital too late. Last
week, six young children died in the therapeutic feeding center in Ifo camp,
which As Sy visited on Sunday.
most impressive thing for me is that the poorest
mothers in the worst cases of deprivation still love their children and want
the best for them. They want them to be well fed, well -educated and to grow up
with a future."
said As Sy."To listen to all their stories,
with smiles on their faces and hope for the future is a true source of
inspiration for all of us."
In the midst of dust and hardship, one of these stories of inspiration
and courage is the story of Hawa Issak, the 21-year old woman from Gedo in
Somalia. Shortly after her arrival in Dadaab she gave birth to a boy, her third
child."I gave him the name Ibrahim" she said proudly, with a smile on her face.
"We are safe now, for the time being."
UNICEF urgently requires funds to reach malnourished children in East Africa. Please donate now.