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Kenya, 26 July 2011: Field diary: the road to Dadaab

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Tidey
A mother sits with her son during his treatment for malnutrition at stabilisation centre in Dadaab, Kenya.

UNICEF Communication Specialist Christopher Tidey travelled to Kenya to assess the situation of families, especially women and children, amidst the crippling drought crisis. His report follows.

By Christopher Tidey

DADAAB, Kenya, 26 July 2011 – Driving the nearly 100 kilometre sand road from the Somali border to the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, is like an otherworldly odyssey across an arid landscape seemingly devoid of life. The four-by-four bucks and swerves to avoid the lifeless bodies of animals whose bones have been bleached a brilliant white by the merciless sun. The leafless branches of trees and shrubs are road signs telling me that I have come to the land of drought and death.   

Then I see them. I see the brilliant colours of the women’s clothing and the small outlines of the babies bundled on their backs. I see the elderly men and women shuffling gingerly along without the support of a walker or cane. I see the older children helping their younger siblings keep pace with the rest of the family.

The listless expressions on their gaunt faces tell of a painstaking journey on foot over hundreds of kilometres in search of food and water. All of them are walking across this wasted land towards what they hope will be their salvation. Many of them will not make it.

‘Left with nothing to eat’

These are the Somali refugees seeking relief from drought and starvation in their homeland. Thousands of the people fortunate enough to survive the journey arrive daily at the refugee camps in Dadaab. They come exhausted. They come starving. Many come having lost family members along the way.

© UNICEF Kenya/2011/Tidey
Mohammad, suffering from malnutrition, begins to feed himself again at stabilisation centre in Dadaab, Kenya.

Among the refugees, it is the children whose situation truly reflects the terrible human toll the drought has taken. With famine now declared in two regions of southern Somalia and malnutrition rates at emergency levels in arid and semi-arid regions across the Horn of Africa, almost 780,000 children are at risk of death without urgent assistance. In total 2.23 million children in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are estimated to be acutely malnourished.

At the Hagadera Stabilisation Centre in Dadaab, I meet with Abdile, the father of four children whose son Aden, 3, is being treated for severe malnutrition.

“Because of the drought, we lost all of our crops and animals and were left with nothing to eat,” said Abdile. “We walked for 25 days to get to Dadaab from Somalia. My wife died along the way, so now, I must look after the children alone.”

Intensive care

When Abdile and his children arrived at the Hagadera reception centre, Aden was near death. Lacking the strength even to swallow, he was rushed to the camp’s hospital for emergency treatment. That was six days ago.

Sitting with Aden and his father now, I can see that he is getting his strength back. Through therapeutic feeding provided by UNICEF, Aden’s health has improved and he can now hold his head up without support. His recovery is fragile, however, and his case must be handled with the utmost care by the hospital’s attentive doctors. Aden weighs a meagre five kilograms and suffers from skin and respiratory infections. 

“When I saw Aden six days ago, I was worried that he wasn’t strong enough to survive, so I am thrilled to see that his condition has improved,” said UNICEF Nutrition Specialist Patrick Codjia. “Every time I leave the hospital after meeting with children suffering from severe malnutrition, I hope that I will see them again, but you just don’t know.”

Food security crisis

The first major goal in treating malnourished children at the Dadaab stabilisation centres is for them to be able to feed themselves again. Sitting in the hospital bed beside Aden is three-year-old Mohammad who has just achieved this feat today. It is truly inspiring to see.

Sadly, this crisis is nowhere near to being over. It is the worst food security crisis in Africa for twenty years; and worst in the world today. For every Aden and Mohammad who survived the journey from Somalia, there are thousands of other children whose lives could still be lost on the road to Dadaab.

 

 
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