Kenya: Refugee Camp at the Verge of a Humanitarian Disaster
By Eunice Kilonzo
Dadaab---Kenya is home to one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world. It is also the world's saddest and fastest-growing city, a refugee camp built for 90,000 now quaking under the strain of 370,000 as of July 2011, mainly from Somalia. The population is expected to reach 450,000 by the end of the year according to Médecins sans Frontièrs. This year alone more than 31,000 additional Somalis have arrived in the camps this is as a result of drought and continuing violence between Somali Government forces and Al-Shabaab militants. Thus the refugees are forced to seek long-term refuge.
Consequently, this influx has led to overcrowding, sanitation, and health problems. The latest being drought. Dadaab is a division in Garissa District, which suffered a severe drought for almost four years. The drought killed approximately 50 per cent of the local livestock, creating a major economic strain on the region. Given its location within the Somali desert, the long term settlement of refugees has severely impacted the landscape, as fuel and building materials are in constant demand. Severe drought has sent hundreds of thousands of Somalis, now stateless and hungry, on a three-week trek here - with up to 1,300 more desperate people arriving every day.
When it rains the situation is worsened. For instance, since November 2006, flooding severely affected the region. More than 2,000 homes in the camp were destroyed, forcing the relocation of more than 10,000 refugees. The sole access road to the camp and to the town was also cut off by the floods, effectively cutting off the town and refugee camps from essential supplies.
Ali Lassa, 28, is one of those waiting to be registered.
Holding her young child she says, "We have been walking for 16 days. My family has come with me, five children and my husband. We could no longer survive in Somalia. The war was happening in my village and all of our animals had died so we ran away. We had no reason to stay.
"We did not bring anything with us, so we have nothing. In our village the drought killed animals and had started to kill people. There was a lot of hunger. No one had anything to spare for us."
Near the camp, the landscape is littered with dead animals starved because there is nowhere for them to graze. The pastures and grass long dead while the waterholes dried up. The camps are coupled with crying sick babies; young children caked in dust; their mothers doing everything on their own; their husbands either dead, or looking after what little they have left back in Somalia. Infant mortality is high, illustrated by the graveyards that have sprung up across the sprawling camp.
Dadaab is a semi-arid town in the North Eastern Province in Kenya. It is located approximately 100 kilometers from the Kenya-Somalia border. Until recently, the local population traditionally consisted of nomadic Somali camel and goat herders. The nearest major town is Garissa, which is the headquarters of the North Eastern Province. Dadaab features a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) base that serves refugee camps around the town: Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley. The international humanitarian organization Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) is UNHCR's lead implementing partner responsible for managing the camp. Much of the town's economy is based on services for refugees.