Rainfall, disease, hitting refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia

Briefing Notes, 15 November 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 November 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than a month after the kidnapping of three aid workers in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex, insecurity continues to affect aid efforts. The situation is being exacerbated by heavy rains and accompanying risks of waterborne diseases.

Nearly 100 additional Kenyan police have been deployed in the camps in the last month. UNHCR is supporting them with vehicles, shelter and telecommunications equipment. Together with our partners, we are exploring options to gradually resume full operations despite continued security incidents in and around Dadaab. In the meantime, refugees are still receiving life-saving aid, namely food, water and health care.

The situation has been complicated by an outbreak of cholera in the camps, which is believed to have started among new arrivals who had most likely acquired it in Somalia or en route to Dadaab. Rains and flooding had affected the trucking of water to parts of the camps, and we fear some refugees resorted to using unsafe water from flooded areas.

There are now 60 cases in the camps, including 10 laboratory-confirmed cases and one refugee death. To manage the outbreak, UNHCR and partners have set up cholera treatment centres for severe cases. Most cases can be managed through oral rehydration solutions (ORS) that can be given at home or at the health posts. We are working with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health to train health workers in the community-based management of diarrhoea so that patients can begin treatment at home.

We have increased levels of chlorine, which kills cholera-causing bacteria, at water points in the camps. These are monitored to make sure they are maintained at the correct levels. We are also promoting hygiene practices among the refugees, especially the use of latrines and hand washing with soap. Each refugee received 250 grams of soap with the latest food distribution and this will continue monthly for several months.

In Ethiopia's Dollo Ado area, a nutrition survey at the Kobe and Hilaweyn camps has found high levels of malnutrition among children under five years of age. Refugees at both camps arrived from Somalia in extremely poor health condition, with many families losing children to malnutrition en route or after arrival in Ethiopia. Health and nutrition programmes have been set up by a range of experienced partners to address malnutrition, especially among the youngest children, but progress has been slow, as this survey confirmed.

However, the number of deaths among children under five has decreased dramatically compared to the very high level seen at the height of the refugee influx this summer. This reflects improved access to quality health care and nutrition services, as well as improved water and sanitation facilities. UNHCR is leading the coordination of a nutrition response to the survey's findings.

Meanwhile, intermittent downpours in Dollo Ado continue to cause flash floods in the area. The airstrip was hit by floods in the past four days and has subsequently remained out of service.

Nonetheless, work continues on the fifth refugee camp in the area, Bur Amino. The ground is rocky and this slows down the digging of latrines, a minimum number of which must be in place before refugees can be relocated from the transit centre. More than 7,600 recent arrivals from Somalia are now encamped at the transit centre, where they receive basic shelter, relief items and hot meals.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Dollo Ado, Ethiopia: Stiofainin Nic Iomhaird on mobile +252 618 017 852
  • In Dadaab, Kenya: Sonia Aguilar on mobile +254 705 253 292
  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Kenya office): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Nairobi, Kenya (Regional office): Vivian Tan on mobile +254 735 337 608, Needa Jehu-Hoyah on mobile +254 734 564 018



UNHCR country pages

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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.


Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to ServePlay video

Ethiopia: Education, A Refugee's Call to Serve

War forced Lim Bol Thong to flee South Sudan, putting his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold. As a refugee in the Kule camp in Gambella, Ethiopia, he has found another way to serve. Just 21 years old, Lim started teaching chemistry at the school's primary school and last year was promoted to Vice Principal.
Return to SomaliaPlay video

Return to Somalia

Ali and his family are ready to return to Somalia after living in Dadaab refugee camp for the past five years. We follow their journey from packing up their home in the camp to settling into their new life back in Somalia.
Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee CampPlay video

Kenya: High Commissioner Visits Dadaab Refugee Camp

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres completed a visit to Kenya and Somalia where he met with the Presidents of the two countries, as well as Somali refugees and returnees.