The overcrowded Dadaab camp in Kenya is struggling to provide for the continual stream of starving Somali refugees
Much has been written on this blog and others about the dire situation currently being faced in the Horn of Africa. The countries in this region are facing their worst drought in 60 years. A famine has been declared in some of the worst hit areas as crops and water sources dry up. To get an idea as to what this means, keep in mind the criteria for declaring a famine: acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30%, more than 2 children per 10,000 die per day and people are not able to access 2,100 calories per day. Hundreds of thousands of starving people have fled Somalia, the hardest hit country, and are heading to UN refugee camps in neighboring countries.
One of the most popular destinations for these refugees is the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Dadaab is actually three refugee camps put together: Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp – it has over 380,000 people currently staying there, which is over 4 times its intended capacity. Some predictions say that the camp will house over 450,000 people by the end of this year. This camp is receiving approximately 1,500 Somali refugees per day and has taken in over 60,000 this year alone. UN officials at the camp say that they have seen an increase in the amount of deaths resulting from acute malnutrition. Compared to last year, there has been a 4.5-fold increase in deaths of Somali children aged 5 or less in Kenyan and Ethiopian camps. Families arriving from Somalia who are waiting to get into the camps wait in temperatures of 120 degrees for up to 12 days for food rations.
On a positive note, Dadaab is expanding. The Kenyan government recently announced that they would be opening a fourth camp to add to the Dadaab complex: Ifo II. This will certainly be a welcome addition to the cramped camp, which on average has five families living on plots intended for a single family.
So how did things get so bad and what would it take to make the situation better? As with so many other aspects of aid and international relations, the answer is tied to money. Nothing short-term could prevent a drought from happening, but something could certainly have been done in terms of preparation. One publication reported, “Despite warnings forecasting the crisis since November, 2010, by March, 2011, the World Food Programme (WFP) was 60% under-funded, and had to cut back its feeding programmes in Somalia and Ethiopia. The shortfall is now down to about 30%.” And then there is the issue of funding the recovery effort. Appeals for emergency funding after the drought began have only returned half of what they were asking for, hardly enough to adequately bolster aid and quell the famine.
The common, sensible assumption with famine is that it results from a lack of food. Interestingly, some have pointed out that the main issue is not actually the lack of food; rather it is the skyrocketing prices of the food already available. So to an extent, the food is there, but a poor family cannot afford to buy it. Preemptive investment of aid money into the development of a robust agricultural and distribution sector could have helped this crisis from turning into a true famine. It is not enough to grow food, it must be able to reach hungry/starving areas while maintaining a low price tag. (The importance of agricultural advancement was also a key point of my webinar on South Sudan. This principle applies to many countries in the region.)
One of the interesting aspects of the problems in places such as Dadaab is that it’s not as simple as a single organization addressing the issues of the refugees, it’s a network of individual aid groups. At times, the multitude of organizations leads to cracks in the relief effort. For a very basic example, suppose there are three organizations, one providing food, another water and a third medicine. If, in the hectic life of the strained camp, 50,000 of the 380,000 refugees received only food and water, their chances of survival without medicine would drastically diminish. Rebecca, one of my colleagues on this blog, wrote a series of posts concerning this issue – how do you close this nonprofit gap and ensure that organizations are working together to the maximum benefit of the people they are trying to help? And how do ensure that you are helping the camp residents build a sustainable future, rather than only addressing immediate survival needs?
Over the next couple of weeks, Rebecca and I are going to delve deeper into the Dadaab camp. We’re going to get a more exact picture of the organizations working in the camp and see if we can find any aspects of refugee care that aren’t currently being handled there. Then we will apply the theoretical strategies Rebecca has proposed in closing the non-profit disconnect to the very real, current plight of the Dadaab camp. In the end, we will see how this strategy could maximize the resources available to help the hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees get back on their feet. Stay tuned for the next post in the series.Ryan Pavel is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focusing on foreign military involvement, policy and strategy into conflicts and motivations behind and impact of foreign aid. To learn more about the SISGI Group visit www.sisgigroup.org