UN applauds move to deal with dramatic increase in refugees fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia since the beginning of the year
The Kenyan government has announced it will open a fourth refugee camp at Dadaab to accommodate the thousands of people fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia.
According to reports on Thursday, Kenya's prime minister, Raila Odinga, who visited Dadaab this week, said Ifo II camp would be opened on humanitarian grounds.
The UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, has written to both Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, the president of Kenya, applauding the decision and promising the agency's full support.
Since Dadaab opened in 1991 to accommodate refugees escaping civil war in Somalia, a steady stream of people have been arriving there. However, severe food shortages and continued violence in Somalia have resulted in a dramatic increase in numbers since the beginning of the year, putting additional strain on already beleaguered resources. Dadaab, one of the world's largest, most congested refugee camps, was declared full in 2008, but the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said about 1,300 Somali refugees had recently been arriving daily. Up to five families are sharing plots designed for one family. Thousands of people are currently living in makeshift shelter outside the complex.
NGOs have been pressing the Kenyan government to open the extension camp, which is expected to be operational within the next 10 days.
The UNHCR said on Friday it expected its first delivery of tents for the new camp to arrive in Nairobi on Sunday. Six subsequent flights carrying equipment are expected over the next two weeks.
According to the UN, as of Wednesday the total number of refugees in and around Dadaab was 439,000 - 380,000 registered and another 59,000 new arrivals living on the outskirts of the three existing camps, Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley.
A UNHCR official at Dadaab, Fafa Attidzah, told AP the agency was "thankful" Ifo II has been given the go-ahead to open. "We are just happy and again we are thankful and we are grateful to the Kenyan government and to the Kenyan people for having allowed these refugees who are suffering to have a little bit of dignity by having somewhere where they could be accommodated," Attidzah reportedly said.
The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, which has been working in Dadaab for 14 years, reported this week that extreme heat, lack of water and sanitation, delays in the registration of new arrivals and provision of food rations had resulted in difficult living conditions for new arrivals. There are particular concerns over the number of children suffering from malnutrition.
MSF said on Thursday that last month's three-day rapid nutritional assessment, during which 500 children between the ages of six months and five years were measured and weighed, found 37% were suffering from global acute malnutrition; of these, 17% were severely affected, with a high risk of death. Children up to the age of 10 were also showing elevated rates of malnutrition.
"There is a high level of malnutrition. We are extremely concerned," said Monica Rull, head of MSF projects in Kenya and Somalia.
"I expected to find a difficult situation but not a catastrophic one," explained Anita Sackl, the co-ordinator of the nutritional assessment. "The majority of new arrivals actually fled because they had nothing to eat, not just because their country has been at war for decades," she added.
Thousands of Somali refugees have also been crossing the border into Ethiopia and Djibouti. As of 30 June, more than 54,000 refugees had arrived in the Dolo Ado region of Ethiopia since the beginning of the year, bringing the total number of Somali refugees in Ethiopia to more than 135,000. A third refugee camp was opened in Dolo Ado last month.
The UN estimates that at least 10 million people in east Africa will be in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of severe food shortages, failed harvest, rising food prices and conflict in the region. The UN and the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee have launched appeals for funds to address the crisis.
On Thursday, Kenya's government pledged 9bn Kenyan shillings ($100m) to provide supplies to those hit by the drought.
On Friday, the UK government announced a £52.25m ($83.7m) package of emergency assistance to support those affected by the drought in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, including the provision of safe water and healthcare assistance for refugees in Dadaab and Dolo Ado.
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