"We're in a crisis right now": World's biggest refugee camp sees alarming spike in child deaths

News Stories, 11 July 2011

DADAAB, Kenya, July 11 (UNHCR) With the worst drought in 60 years gripping huge swathes of east Africa, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres spent Sunday touring this vast refugee complex to see for himself the desperate situation for the thousands of Somalis now arriving here every week.

Accompanied by a large press entourage Guterres visited the component camps of Dadaab, namely Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo. He talked to new arrivals, saw the registration, healthcare and food arrangements, and heard directly from humanitarian workers of the grim toll that drought in this region is taking on people newly arriving from Somalia, especially young children.

In a briefing for Guterres and the press, humanitarian workers were blunt in their assessment of the situation. "We're in a crisis right now," said Allison Oman, UNHCR's Senior Regional Nutrition and Food Security Officer. "We need extraordinary measures to help."

The alarm felt at Dadaab relates both to the escalating number of recent arrivals from Somalia, and the high death rates seen among young children in particular. With infants below five years in age, 3.2-fold and 3.8-fold increases in mortality are currently being seen at the Ifo and Hagadera camps compared with the prevailing rates a year ago. At the Dagahaley camp the increase has been six-fold.

I believe Somalia represents the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

High Commissioner António Guterres

With exhausted families on the cusp of survival when they arrive at Dadaab, camp workers were racing on Sunday to identify those needing most urgent care. All newly arriving refugees are registered and given food, but often people are in so advanced a state of deterioration that it is too late to reverse the decline. Lower respiratory-tract infection claims most lives, followed by malnutrition and diarrhoea.

Guterres heard from a woman who told him her flight from Somalia had involved a walk of weeks, during which three of her children had died. "I became a bit insane after I lost them," the mother Musleema Aden told him. "I lost them at different times on my way."

In recent weeks Dadaab, along with the Dollo Ado camps in neighbouring Ethiopia, has borne the brunt of an epic outflow of people from Somalia stemming from a drought that is being cruelly amplified by conflict. Inside Somalia the effect of crop failures and the near-absence of aid means food prices have quadrupled. UNHCR believes that most people are waiting until the last moment to flee a fact that may account for the exhausted state of many of the new arrivals.

Dadaab, which already housed well over 300,000 people before the crisis, is today seeing its population approaching 400,000. Refugees are spilling out into overflow areas around the main camps, where camp workers struggle to help them.

On Sunday Guterres spoke of the need for humanitarian agencies to help inside Somalia itself where currently their access is severely limited.

"I believe Somalia represents the worst humanitarian disaster in the world," he told journalists. "And that is why we need to do everything we can to make it possible to deliver massive humanitarian assistance inside Somalia."

By Adrian Edwards in Dadaab, Kenya




UNHCR country pages


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


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

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Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

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