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Kenya, 16 August 2011: One mother’s hopes and fears in drought-stricken Kenya

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Moreno
Somali refugee Ibdio in front of a makeshift shelter in the Dagahaley camp in north-eastern Kenya. The family travelled for 15 days to reach the camp.

By Manuel Moreno

DADAAB, Kenya, 16 August 2011- When the skies fill with a grey blanket of thick clouds and the wind blows hard, anywhere else in the world would be expecting rain – but Dadaab, the sprawl of refugee camps approximately 100 km from the Somali border, is not anywhere else in the world, and there is little chance of rainfall here in this drought-hit region of East Africa.

A dangerous journey

Ibdio, 25, is no stranger to hardship. A single mother of three boys, she had her first child at the age of 11. Some ten days ago, she arrived at Dadaab with her family and like the rest of the estimated 1,300 people who show up every day, they had to find space in the overcrowded camp – settling eventually in Dagahaley camp.

The three camps that make up Dadaab –Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera- were originally designed to house 90,000 people following the civil war in Somalia in 1991. Today around 400,000 displaced people live here. Dadaab has become the largest refugee complex in the world, and is still growing.

Ibdios's family left Dinsor, situated in the Lower Juba region of war-torn Somalia, out of hunger and fear. One week before their journey, her husband abandoned her, taking with him their last two remaining cows. It took them 15 days to reach Dadaab and the trip was tough and dangerous. On the way she witnessed families that buried their children or their parents, and felt the constant fear of losing one of her own.

”We left (Somalia) with hope,” said the young mother. “Hope is what gave us the strength to continue… but now that we are here we don’t know what to do.”

The family survives today thanks to food provided by aid agencies, food that must last them for three weeks. “We still struggle with what was given to us,” she said. “Some yellow maize, oil and wheat flour. But it is almost finished.”

UNICEF provides support

Ibdio’s family is just one of many that UNICEF is striving to assist, not only in Dadaab but across the Horn of Africa.

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Moreno
A child crawls across the sand in Dagahaley refugee camp in north-eastern Kenya, exposed to driving wind and heat. UNICEF is scaling up critical services in nutrition, health, water, sanitation and protection to meet immediate children needs.

UNICEF has increased its supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food to hospitals and nutrition centres in the Dadaab camps and surrounding host communities, helping to treat the many children who arrive, suffering from acute malnutrition.

To improve access to safe water along the refugee routes, UNICEF is also supporting the delivery of drinking water by trucks. Some 20,000 litres of water have been distributed to the refugees so far. This has enabled families to access water at regular intervals and has improved the situation for host communities settled around water distribution points.

In the camps, UNICEF is working with other organizations to distribute jerry cans and undertake hygiene promotion and provision of soap, all designed to reduce the ever-present threat of disease outbreaks.

Restoring hope

This is not an overnight crisis. It requires immediate relief as well as a long-term vision. UNICEF is planning to construct 146 new learning centres and classrooms in the camps to accommodate newly-arrived refugees and alleviate congestion in pre-existing schools. These centres will be situated in camp outskirts where many newly-arrived refugees live.

To ensure that new arrivals know what services are available, UNICEF is also working with other agencies in Dadaab, developing communication networks to inform refugees and host communities of what is available in areas such as education, health and social protection.

This combination of services and support is just part of a major operation that aims to lift the clouds on the horizon of the more than 2 million children affected by the drought across the Horn of Africa. With each life saved, and every child protected, some of the hope that mothers like Ibdio so desperately seek may start to return.

 

 
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