Life-saving efforts in Ethiopia continue, growing shelter needs in Djibouti

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Mass distribution of UNHCR emergency aid is continuing in southern and central Somalia reaching some 30,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) this week alone. Since early July UNHCR teams have assisted some 180,000 people. Our plan is to reach another 180,000 internally displaced Somalis before the end of August.

This week's deliveries focused on IDP settlements close to Villa Somalia in Mogadishu's Waaberi district, in Baadheere in Gedo Region and in Sakow in Middle Juba Region. Shelter materials seem to be particularly welcome, not least because the Somali capital has had rain in recent days.

Despite the withdrawal of Al Shabaab from many parts of Mogadishu almost two weeks ago, the security situation means that UNHCR staff still face restrictions on movement. Nonetheless, we were able to hold a meeting with our partners during the week to coordinate the emergency response and assessments in IDP settlements.

In Ethiopia, a large scale effort has meanwhile been underway to address the high mortality rates among new arrivals from Somalia. Malnutrition remains the leading cause of death but the situation is being compounded by suspected measles and other diseases.

Children under the age of five, already weakened and exhausted by hunger and the long journey to the camps, are especially vulnerable and remain the priority focus. Severely malnourished children are at very high risk of complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles, which can be a fatal combination.

We are expanding existing nutritional programmes to older children and are rushing to open a dedicated stabilization centre for severely acute malnourished children in Kobe camp, which has been experiencing the highest mortality rates. Virtually all of its 25,000 residents have crossed into Ethiopia over the past ten weeks - fleeing drought, famine and conflict in Somalia. So far this year, more than 77,000 Somalis have found shelter in Ethiopia, joining the many others already there.

Following the measles vaccination of all children between the ages of six months and 15 years of age in Kobe camp, a second mass vaccination programme began yesterday (Thursday, 18 August) in Melkadida. Melkadida, which is also in the Dollo Ado area, is the biggest refugee camp in Ethiopia with a population just under 40,000. Across the four camps at Dollo Ado, we have so far identified 166 cases of suspected measles and 15 related deaths.

The children will be vaccinated against measles and polio, and screened for malnutrition. Efforts are being stepped up to bring services closer to the refugees and to encourage parents to continue to take children for treatment at health centres. Together with our government counterpart and aid agencies, UNHCR is opening satellite health posts and nutritional feeding centres, where malnourished children receive therapeutic feeding to encourage weight gain.

Our teams on the ground are working on improving sanitation and hygiene and on increasing the quantity and quality of water delivered to the camps. Refugee leaders and community outreach workers have been engaged to deliver three key messages to refugees: hand washing, use of latrines and referral of sick children to the health centres.

Meanwhile, UNHCR, together with Ethiopian authorities and other partners is working on a response to the immediate needs of Somali refugees who arrived recently through the Gode area, 250km north-east of Dollo Ado. The refugees number more than 17,500. Priority activities are life-saving interventions such as delivery of basic food assistance and medical care. The group will then be registered before a voluntary move to one of the existing camps. WFP has distributed a one-month food ration for 300 families and MERLIN, a local NGO active in the area, is extending medical services.

In Kenya, UNHCR began populating yesterday (Thursday, 18 August) a new part of the Dadaab refugee complex to provide shelter for tens of thousands of new Somali refugees and to ease the chronic overcrowding of the existing camps - namely Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera.

The first group to occupy tents at Ifo2 part of Ifo Extension were 259 Somali refugees. These families were transported in buses, with all their personal belongings in trucks from the outskirts of Dagahaley camp where they initially pitched their tents some weeks ago - far from assistance and services available in the camps. Movements to the Ifo3 part of the Ifo Extension, which began on 25 July, continue and some 18,000 refugees have been moved there.

More than 140,000 Somali refugees have fled to Kenya since the beginning of the year, 70,000 during June and July alone - overwhelming the reception capacity of Dadaab.

Meanwhile in Djibouti, the authorities are working to open a camp to house more than 3,500 Somalis who have arrived so far this year. An existing camp called Ali Addeh is already overcrowded with 17,000 refugees from previous influxes.

The new arrivals are currently encamped at the nearby transit centre, where they receive counselling, medical attention, hot meals and relief items. However, the centre is not equipped to house refugees for more than two weeks.

The ongoing influx of refugees is straining already-limited resources. Water shortage is a big problem. UNHCR is working with UNICEF to truck in water, but the current supply of 10 litres per person per day is only half of what is recommended.

To ease the congestion, the Djibouti government has agreed to open a new camp at an old camp site called Holl-Holl. Much work remains to be done to prepare the site for the new refugees, including digging boreholes for water, building latrines, a health centre and school. We hope the camp can start receiving refugees by mid-September.

Learn more about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and how to contribute by visiting the UNHCR Horn of Africa emergency donation 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 Kenya, UNHCR Somalia Office: Andy Needham on mobile +254 733 120 931
  • In Ethiopia: Kisut Gebre Egziabher on mobile +251 911 208 901
  • In Dollo Ado, Ethiopia: Laura Padoan on Tel: +252 618389306