Staggering malnutrition rates as quarter of Somalia population uprooted

Briefing Notes, 5 July 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 July 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The massive influx of Somali refugees into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia continues unabated. Relentless violence compounded by devastating drought has forced more than 135,000 Somalis to flee so far this year. In June alone, 54,000 people fled across the two borders, three times the number of people who fled in May.

We estimate a quarter of Somalia's 7.5 million population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees. The drought is compounded by prevailing violence in southern and central parts of the country.

UNHCR is particularly disturbed by unprecedented levels of malnutrition among the new arrivals especially among refugee children. More than 50 per cent of Somali children arriving in Ethiopia are seriously malnourished, while among those arriving to Kenya that rate is somewhat lower, but equally worrying between 30 to 40 per cent.

"Knowing that children are dying along their journey to safety breaks our hearts." UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres said. "This is turning one of the world's worst humanitarian crises into a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions."

Prevailing violent conflict inside Somalia makes it difficult if not impossible for aid agencies to reach these people with assistance. Many families tell us they exhausted virtually all of their resources. Facing starvation, they walk for days, several weeks at times, through the desert, arriving in an appalling state of health.

Increasingly, we are hearing reports of children below the age of five dying of hunger and exhaustion during the journey. Tragically, many children are in such weak conditions when they finally arrive that they die within 24 hours despite the emergency care and therapeutic feeding they immediately receive.

In Dadaab refugee camp complex in Kenya, where refugees arrive at a rate of 1,400 per day, UNHCR and its partners are distributing high energy biscuits for instant calories and micronutrients. These are life-saving interventions. In addition to malnutrition, overcrowding of the camps, which already host more than 382,000 people, is a major concern.

In Ethiopia, refugees are registered at the border by authorities before being transferred to a UNHCR transit centre where they receive hot meals and go through health and nutrition screening. UNHCR recently opened a new camp at Kobe, the third in South-East Ethiopia, which is quickly reaching its capacity of 20,000.Together with Ethiopian authorities and in anticipation of a continued influx, we have identified a fourth site and discussions are underway about the location of the fifth camp.

As part of UNHCR response, a UNHCR-chartered Boeing 747 cargo plane is scheduled to land in Addis Ababa later today, delivering 100 tonnes of relief items from our emergency stockpile in Dubai. A land convoy of some 20 trucks loaded with thousands of tents and other aid left from Djibouti yesterday afternoon and is expected to reach the Ethiopian capital on Thursday. The High Commissioner is scheduled to visit the border areas with Somalia of Ethiopia and Kenya as well as the refugee camps later this week.

A UNHCR appeal covering the needs of protection, food, shelter, health services and other life-saving aid supplies is about to be issued. The needs are urgent and massive. In the light of the urgency of the situation, UNHCR not only calls on governments but also on individual donors and the private sector to urgently support our life-saving operations in Ethiopia and Kenya. To donate, please go to the UNHCR website: http://www.unhcr.org/emergency/somalia/.

There are now more than 750,000 Somali refugees living in the region, mostly in neighbouring Kenya (405,000), Yemen (187,000) and Ethiopia (110,000). Another 1.46 million are displaced within Somalia.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Nairobi, Kenya: Emmanuel Nyabera, on mobile +254 733 99 59 75
  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher, on mobile +25 19 11 20 89 01
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic, on mobile +41 79 200 76 17
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Crisis in Horn of Africa

Tens of thousands of Somalis are fleeing conflict and drought into Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Somalia Emergency: Urgent Appeal

Widespread malnutrition among Somali refugees requires immediate action.

Donate to this crisis

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

South Sudan: Here and HelpingPlay video

South Sudan: Here and Helping

The South Sudanese town of Bor was among the worst hit in the latest violence in the country. These newly displaced people found shelter in an Ethiopian refugee camp.
Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay video

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.