UN: Somalia drought world's worst humanitarian crisis

DADAAB, Kenya (AP) — The head of the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp.

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Recently-arrived Somali refugees walk amongst makeshift shelters and United Nations tents in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Sunday, July 10, 2011. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 1300 new refugees fleeing drought and hunger in Somalia are arriving daily in the Dadaab area of northern Kenya.

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Somali children play with scraps of material at an informal settlement housing recently-arrived Somali refugees, on the outskirts of Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya, Sunday, July 10, 2011. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 1300 new refugees fleeing drought and hunger in Somalia are arriving daily in the Dadaab area of northern Kenya.

The Kenyan camp, Dadaab, is overflowing with tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees forced into the camp by the parched landscape in the region where Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya meet. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people already need humanitarian aid. The U.N. Children's Fund estimates that more than 2 million children are malnourished and in need of lifesaving action.

Antonio Guterres, the head of UNHCR who visited Dadaab on Sunday, appealed to the world to supply the "massive support" needed by thousands of refugees showing up at this camp every week. More than 380,000 refugees now live there.

In Dadaab, Guterres spoke with a Somalia mother who lost three of her children during a 35-day walk to reach the camp. Guterres said Dadaab holds "the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the vulnerable."

"I became a bit insane after I lost them," said the mother, Muslima Aden. "I lost them in different times on my way."

Guterres is on a tour of the region to highlight the dire need. On Thursday he was in the Ethiopian camp of Dollo Ado, a camp that is also overflowing.

"The mortality rates we are witnessing are three times the level of emergency ceilings," he said. "The level of malnutrition of the children coming in is 50 percent. That is enough to explain why a very high level of mortality is inevitable," he said.

Dr. Dejene Kebede, a health officer for UNHCR, said there were 58 deaths in camps in one week alone in June.

Most of the deaths take place at the registration office and transition facilities of the refugee camps in the southeastern Dollo region of Ethiopia, the health officer said.

Up to 2,000 Somali refugees are crossing the border into Ethiopia every day, UNHCR said. Thousands of families arrive in poor conditions often after walking for days in search of food.

Guterres said the influx is overwhelming for UNHCR and other international and local aid organizations: "Nothing can compare to what we have seen this month."

"I believe Somalia represents the worst humanitarian disaster in the world," he said.

The camps are full and lack capacity to provide the Somali people with food and shelter.

This makes effective health treatment almost impossible, said Jerome Souquet, head of Doctors Without Borders at the Dollo Ado camps.

"We can treat the severely malnourished children, but they will definitely come back to us underfed because there is not enough food and almost all of them suffer from diarrhea," he told The Associated Press.

Habiba Osman Ibrahim, a 76-year old Somali refugee from the al-Shabab-controlled Luk region of Somalia, said she walked for three days with her two underfed grandchildren. Al-Shabab is Somalia's dangerous militant group. It had forced out all international aid groups, but earlier this month said they could return considering the desperate conditions.

"We were dependent on food aid," she said. "But because al-Shabab forced out all relief operations and there was no food we had no choice but to flee."

Aden Dayow, 32, said he was a sorghum-growing farmer in Ufurow in Somalia, but fled to Ethiopia because his harvest failed because of a lack of rains.

The epicenter of the drought lies on the three-way border shared by Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, a nomadic region where families heavily depend on the health of their livestock. Uganda and Djibouti have also been hit.

The World Food Program said it expects 10 million people in the Horn of Africa to require food assistance. WFP currently provides food aid to 6 million people in East Africa.

The group said it is facing a shortfall of 40 percent on the $477 million needed to address hunger needs in the region.

Somalis desperate for food are also overrunning Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, which is seeing some 10,000 new arrivals each week, six times the average at this time last year.

The U.N.'s refugee agency says Dadaab's three camps now host more than 382,000 people, while thousands more are waiting at reception centers outside the camp.


Van Kemenade contributed to this report from Dollo Ado and Bisle, Ethiopia.

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Islam / Somalia

Birth Control? What Birth Control? This is how Islam is spread. Everywhere Islam is dominant you find distruction, filth,disease, and death. This should tell us something.

David  Cote's picture

Oh yeah...Look out for numero uno

What a great attitude to have ; "Taking care of our own.", "Teach them about birth control." etc...I'd be downright ashamed of myself if I put my name to those comments pertaining to this story. The feeling I get is since we as a nation has a support system through our government than all is taken care of in the midst of a national disaster. Really? What happened in the days following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina? That support system failed in a nation that's supposed to be the greatest nation on earth. This is a country that is so far behind the times that dealing with a catastrphe such as widespread famine is overwhelming to a government that hope for these people is dim at best. And Mr. Hubbard I will call you out in particular...What kind of help do you need? If you are someone that deserves to be helped all you have to do is ask for it and you would be directed to the right people that will assist you. However, if you're just one of those types that expect something for nothing, or free food or whatever, then take a trek to your local McD's and slam a couple of dollar McDoubles down your throat. When we were attacked on 9/11 do you honestly believe it was "Americans" only that searched through the rubble and buried the dead among the grieving? No way. The entire civilized world came to us and pledged their help doing whetever was asked of them. The world is one big community, I firmly believe that and those that don't want to be a part of it are those that deserve to be cast aside. What if another earthquake strikes a country like Haiti? Or a tsunami hits the Phillipines? You going to turn your back because you "Gave enough already"? Is it too inconveinent for any of you if a natural disaster strikes an impovershed nation and you're asked to GIVE? Will that cause you to limit your Netflix orders for the next month? Being fat, dumb and happy may be your tonic for life as you see it. Personally, if I had that attitude I couldn't look people in the eye.

Roberta Greenlaw's picture


we in America have our own problems that have overwhelmed us with the many tornados and floods in the midwest. We have done our share in helping these people already. Most of them here in L-A do pretty well with housing,food stamps and other assistance. I know their baskets are pretty full when I see them shopping at different stores. Let's focus on jobs for americans, housing and taking care of our own

Ron Hubbard's picture

I agree

Roberta I totaly agree with you.We have way to many of our own problems in the USA right now.I don't see anyone throwing aid our way...

John Cote's picture

plain and simple solution

how about we teach them about birth control that way they have enough for all to eat


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