The Dadaab refugee camp has become the face of the food crisis in this region. 1,400 Somali refugees every day are coming into this overcrowded camp in the northeastern corner of Kenya. Many of them have walked for weeks across the desert – hungry, thirsty and scared. It’s a dangerous and difficult journey, and people have died making it.
Women like Faduma Hussein Yagoub have recently arrived. Faduma, a disabled polio sufferer who cannot walk, sat on a donkey cart for 15 days to get across the border. Her husband and two of her five young children died on the way, and she was attacked by armed bandits who stole the few possessions she had left. Exhausted and malnourished, she finally made it to Dadaab where she now lives in a tiny tent with barely enough food and water. 60,000 others in similarly tragic conditions are sheltering on the outskirts of the camp.
Aid agencies are scaling up operations to help them, but refugees are also banding together to help each other. Faduma cannot walk so other refugees collect her small food rations for her. Madina Farah Yusuf lives in the open under a tree but she has taken in four orphaned children who otherwise may have starved.
“It gets very cold at night,” she says. “The children cry as we have only one blanket. It is also unprotected out in the open under this tree. I worry that hyenas will attach the children.” It’s a very real fear – many weak and malnourished children have been attacked by wild animals.
The situation in Dadaab is desperate, but I am also amazed and inspired by the way that women like these are doing everything they can to survive and help others. We need to help them do this. As one of my colleagues here said, “When women and children have made such incredible journeys to get to these camps, the least that we can do is ensure that there is food, water and care for them when they arrive.”
Tens of thousands more refugees from Somalia – where years of war and insecurity has made the effects of the drought even worse – are pouring into Ethiopia, where camps are also overcrowded. The refugee crisis deserves global attention. But we must also remember the local communities.
Northeastern Kenya and southeastern Ethiopia, where refugees are fleeing to, are not green and plentiful. They too are suffering from one of the worst droughts in living memory. Water sources are dried up, the earth is hard and dry, and people’s animals are dead or too weak to move. Some villages in the northeast of Kenya have had barely a drop of rain in two years.
While television crews and politicians are raising awareness of the situation in Dadaab, the surrounding villages are still far from the spotlight – but they also need our support.
(This entry blog was published -in its spanish version- in the Blog 3500Millones of El Pais 15/07/11 as part of my collaboration with that Blog)