Efforts turn to Ethiopia camps and Mogadishu airlift, as Horn of Africa crisis deepens

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 9 August 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Ethiopia, the relocation of Somali refugees from the over-crowded transit centre in Dollo Ado town to the new camp at Hilaweyn saw its fourth day on Monday. Since the start of the operation on August 5th some 4,000 refugees have been moved. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) which is handling logistics for this operation is relocating some 1,000 refugees a day and expects to finish the operation within a fortnight.

Following the recent outbreak of suspected measles in the Dollo Ado camps, UNHCR and health partners have been carrying out screening and measles vaccination for all children between the ages of six months and 15 years before their transfer to Hilaweyn. On the first day of the exercise, last Friday, nearly 300 children were vaccinated, and seven cases of suspected measles were isolated for treatment.

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the expansion of the measles vaccination campaign to Kobe, the worst affected of the camps in the region around Dollo Ado. With support from UNICEF and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, further vaccines are being airlifted today to Dollo Ado. The vaccination campaign at Kobe is slated to begin on Thursday. Health partners have started a large community mobilization campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of measles with a focus on the "3 Rs" - red eyes, a rash and runny nose.

Health education materials in the Somali language have also been dispatched to Dollo Ado. Messages are being disseminated at food distribution centres, water collection points and in health and nutrition centres. Religious and community leaders have also been mobilized to raise awareness, and particularly to encourage families to take the sick to health centres.

One of the challenges in the response to the outbreak is that the refugees are not in the habit of seeking medical attention for the sick. Surveillance in the camps has been intensified to ensure that cases are identified and immediately sent to health clinics for treatment.

Overall, the suspected measles outbreak still rates relatively low as a cause of mortality in the camps, with diarrhoea, respiratory tract infection and acute malnutrition remaining the main causes. A strategy outlining priority interventions for addressing high mortality in the camps is being developed. Focus on improving water and sanitation and nutrition programmes must therefore continue.

Yesterday's UNHCR emergency airlift to Somalia - the first by UNHCR in more than five years - landed and successfully unloaded its humanitarian cargo in Mogadishu. The Iluyshin IL-62 aircraft touched down at Aden Adde International Airport at 13:15 local time and 31 metric tones of aid was immediately offloaded onto waiting trucks.

Due to the size of the cargo, the offloading took over two hours to complete. The assistance items - plastic sheeting for shelter, sleeping mats and blankets, jerry-cans for water and kitchen sets so that internally displaced people (IDPs) can collect and cook food - were immediately taken to a nearby warehouse where they will be consolidated into almost 2,500 emergency assistance packages (EAPs) for distribution in the coming days to settlements sheltering displaced Somalis around Mogadishu.

A second plane, with an identical cargo, is scheduled to land on Thursday (11 August). The third humanitarian flight is scheduled for next week and will include high energy biscuits.

The arrival of the airlift is very timely as there are just 7,400 EAPs in UNHCR stocks in Mogadishu and it is vital that we continue to replenish stocks as we undertake distributions in settlements in Mogadishu and across southern Somalia. We are making preparations to deliver assistance to up to 180,000 people in Mogadishu and south central Somalia by the end of the month. The volatile security situation in southern and central Somalia continues to hamper our capacity to deliver this much needed aid.

Learn more about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and how to contribute by visiting the UNHCR Horn of Africa emergency site. For the latest updates follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile: +41 79 200 76 17

  • In Nairobi UNHCR regional office: Ron Redmond on mobile +254 734 564 019

  • In Nairobi UNHCR regional office: Needa Jehu-Hoyah on mobile +254 734 564 018

  • In Nairobi UNHCR Kenya office: Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile: +254 773 995 975

  • In Dadaab camp, Kenya: William Spindler on mobile +254 71 545 5992

  • In Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931

  • In Ethiopia: Milicent Mutuli on mobile +251 911 207 906

  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901