While in Dhoobley, Somalia last week, I visited a wet feeding centre run by the African Rescue Committee, an excellent Somali NGO that also works on the Kenya side of the border.
The centre provides 3 meals a day of corn soya blend porridge for up to a week to families in transit to the Dadaab refugee camps (which are still some 80 km away).
Mothers and children arrive exhausted, dehydrated and often suffering from malnutrition and other ailments after journeys, usually on foot, averaging 2-300 kms (the farthest they had heard of was 1000 km!), taking as long as 3 months on the road.
UNICEF colleagues visit the AFREC wet feeding centre. © UNICEF/2011
Once they have recovered their strength, most proceed to the border and on to Dadaab. The centre has been open for a month and has served some 2,500 people, many of whom may never have survived the onward journey if they did not get a respite and help here.
At the moment the centre is seeing 5-600 new arrivals every day.
At the registration point I met 5 year old Zainab Abdi, a little girl who had travelled 280 km on foot over a 3 month trek, with her mother Rugiya Ibrahim and 3 other children. They had begun their journey, after all their livestock perished, on a donkey cart, but the donkey died 2 months ago and they had to continue on foot. Zainab was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition as we were following her progress through registration. Rugiya said that they planned to stay a few days then set off for Dadaab.
5 year old Zainab and her family arrive at the wet feeding centre. © UNICEF/2011/David Bull
The families are issued with their ration card and can then get their first meal of porridge with sugar, oil and salt. I tasted some and it was good – sweet and nutritious – after such a journey it must be the best food they ever tasted!
We also met a 6 year old disabled boy, Ibrahim, who has never walked and was carried by his father, travelling with mother and 5 other children. They managed to get a lift for 200 kms so had not had to walk the whole distance. Ibrahim is not eating and is in very poor condition. We met him and his father again later at the mother and child health (MCH) centre in Dhoobley and the father was happy to be getting help at last.
Ibrahim and his father. © UNICEF/2011/David Bull
The MCH centre is on a different site and has been here, and supported by UNICEF, for 10 years. Supplies that used to last a month now only last a week and the centre is overwhelmed but coping with great patience and fortitude. They also have a delivery area for babies being born and UNICEF has supplied delivery kits. UNICEF has also trained the health workers here. AFREC now has some 70 staff in Dhoobley. Schools here have also been supported by UNICEF and are due to reopen this week.
In the MCH centre we met a mother and her baby, born just an hour before our arrival.
A newborn baby at Dhoobley's mother and child health centre © UNICEF/2011/David Bull
The mother, Habiba, had spent a week on the road in her advanced state of pregnancy to get here just in time.
She thought she might name the baby Unicef! Both mother and baby were well.
David Bull is Executive Director of UNICEF UK
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