Kenya: Severe climatic changes push millions into the brink of death

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Joyce Chimbi
August 14, 2011

Millions face starvation in Northern part of Kenya as a combination of failed rains, conflict in Somali and over-dependence on livestock compromises food security.

This comes as drought continues to ravage countries such as Somali, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia

“What we are seeing here is almost a perfect storm, conflict in Somali, rising fuel and food prices and lack of rain,” explains Antony Lake the Executive Director UNICEF having toured the region where millions are facing imminent death due to starvation.

Antony Lake the Executive Director UNICEF

Reports by UNICEF indicate that this is not simply a refugee crisis but a situation that is being replicated in other communities across the arid and semi-arid regions in the Horn of Africa.

Although drought has affected everyone in these regions, the impact has been extreme on women and children especially expectant and breastfeeding mothers.

According to UNICEF, in Turkana alone, in a population of about 850,000 people, more than 385,000 children and 90,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women are suffering from acute malnutrition increasing the number of new admission of children suffering from malnutrition to a staggering 78 percent.

In Kenya alone, Abbas Gullet the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross says that an estimated 5 million people in various part of the country are facing starvation. This is amidst a crisis in Daadab complex as 1,400 refugees from the Central and Southern Somali find their way into the camp forcing the government to open a second camp.

“The needs of these new arrivals are growing so fast that MSF is rushing to bring in additional staff and resources. Last month, staff at the health posts gave 11,963 consultations. They are seeing large numbers of patients with respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malnutrition and trauma, and an increasing number of complicated cases,” according to reports by Medecins San Frontieres (MSF).

MSF further notes that “a new health post was opened in March, in the middle of the area where the newcomers are settling, which is already doing an average of 110 consultations a day. We have taken on more than 50 extra staff since October, bringing its total number in Dagahaley camp to 458.”

This comes less than two months after President Kibaki declared drought a national disaster as the lives of people in areas such as Moyale, Turkana, Wajir, Marsabit and Mandera hang in the balance due to lack of food and water.

Further, the aid agency had stated that children who are severely malnourished are at nine times more likely to die than healthy children.

“This is a very serious situation, across the region (Horn of Africa) millions of people are affected. Of this, 2 million children are severely affected with half a million of them suffering from severe acute malnutrition and at the brink of death,” UNICEF Executive Director, Antony Lake emphasizes.

Having endured a long drawn sociopolitical crisis for about 20 years, the situation has led to the escalation of poverty, food insecurity and instability which has impacted negatively on the lives of many Somalis. UNICEF confirms that that one in every three Somalis is living through a humanitarian catastrophe.

The situation in Somali has spilled over to the neighboring countries particularly Kenya and Ethiopia who are themselves dealing with millions of people who require urgent food and water relief.

This has led to an influx of refugees into both countries provoking animosity among the host communities who feel that the refugees are competing with them for scarce food aid.

“The host community is now expressing frustration for what they see as negligence as the government and Aid agencies rush to the rescue of the refugees,” explains Lake.

It is significant to note that Northern Kenya is home to Daadab complex which is the largest refugee site in the world and even though its structures were designed to accommodate about 90,000 people, there are only three refugee camps which constitute the Daadab complex and each was meant to accommodate 30,000 asylum seekers.

Daadab complex is the largest refugee site in the world

Nonetheless, it is now home to an estimated 423,000 thousands refugees. With UNICEF estimating that an additional 50,000 refugees are living on the outskirts of the camp.

However, reports by various aid agencies reveal that the refugees might just be fleeing into the camp of death as disturbing images of people literally at the brink of death begin to emerge.

This is due to the fact that there is no longer space to accommodate any more refugees into Daadab, and neither is there enough food and water to meet their needs. The camp was officially declared full in 2008.

Sanitation is therefore a problem whose consequences might lead to a break up of diseases escalating the mortality rates in the camp.

The British government has in light of the bleak circumstances provided emergency assistance for more than 1 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somali as the humanitarian situation continue to escalate in the Horn of Africa.

“People in Britain have responded with great generosity but the situation is getting worse-and is most severe in Somali, where families have to cope with living in one of the most insecure countries in the world, we are calling to everyone to respond with such support and generosity to enable us to meet the needs of those in dire need of our help,” says Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development (UK).

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