No relief for Somali refugees in Dadaab

Muslims in world’s largest refugee camp mark end of Ramadan with little to look forward to, as UN calls for more aid.

Counting the Cost - Drought and Famine
The Dadaab complex was designed to host 90,000 refugees, but is now home to over 440,000 [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

As Muslims around the world mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, many Somali Muslims will not be able to participate due to the ongoing famine in the Horn of Africa.

Hundreds of thousands of Somalis, threatened by drought and civil war, have wound up at Dadaab – the world’s largest refugee camp.

Situated on the Kenyan-Somali border, the Dabaab complex comprises three refugee camps – Dagaheley, Ifo and Hagadera. Spanning an area of 50km, the camps are designed to host a total of 90,000 people.

However, with a population of 440,000 hungry refugees, Dabaab houses nearly five times more people than its infrastructure is supposed to handle.

And with drought threatening 12 million people throughout the Horn of Africa, the numbers are growing.

Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, reporting from Dadaab, said that despite aid agencies claiming that the number of new arrivals had reduced to around 800 per day from a high of 1500-1800 arrivals per day in July, little on the ground has changed.

“A few thousand have moved to the new Ifo camp, but thousands still remain on the outskirts, living in squalor conditions.

“Agencies have now begun operating in the Somali border town Dobley, and this has reduced the number of refugees entering Kenya.  But the fact that hundreds still continue to arrive every day suggests that firstly, the agencies in Dobley are overburdened and secondly, those fleeing might still think they are safer off in Dadaab.

“The danger of course is to think that since the story and focus has now moved on to Somalia,  the epicentre of the crisis, that conditions here in Dadaab might have improved … because they have not.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Wadah Khanfar, the Director General of the Al Jazeera Network, visited the Dadaab refugee complex, in a bid to draw more attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa.

Somali refugees ‘fast’ as drought continues

Khanfar said that it was time that international media paid more attention to the crisis unfolding in East Africa saying that ‘more needs to be done’.

“Media and news organisations have a mission of putting people at the heart of their editorial policy. We need to move Somalia from the margin of our attention to the centre of our consciousness,” he said.

“Communicating directly with the people on the ground enables us to plan in depth coverage that goes beyond the short and shallow description of such tragic events.”

He said the aim of the trip was to “draw the attention of media organisations and news networks and bid them to spend more resources and dispatch more journalists into the field where they can cover the stories from within the perspectives of the people themselves”.

‘Humanitarian tragedy’

East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years has wreaked havoc on war-torn Somalia and parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

The situation has deteriorated so badly that the UN has declared a famine in five regions of Somalia.

UN officials say the drought has killed tens of thousands of people over the past few months, forcing desperate survivors to walk for weeks in search of food and water.

Many famine victims travel between Somalia and Kenya seeking food and shelter – walking along a road that French Minister Bruno Le Maire has described as “a road of hope, but also a road of death”.

Aid agencies estimate that up to 800 children, braving rapists and theives, flee Somalia for Kenya’s camps every day. Many arrive unaccompanied.

UN refugee agency chief Antonion Guterres has called the plight of the refugees “the worst humanitarian tragedy” in the world today.

Growing camps

To cope with chronic overcrowding, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recently added two new tent cities to the Dadaab complex.

Ifo3, which opened in late July, hosts 18,000 refugees. The complex’s latest addition, Ifo2 opened in early August.

However, aid agencies are still insufficiently equipped to deal with the growing refugee population.

The UN has raised $1bn in aid for the region, but says it needs $1.5bn more by the end of the year to stave off widespread starvation among the refugees.

Last week, an African donors conference pledged $356m in aid.

The African Development Bank offered $300m, while African countries and other private donors raised the rest.

The World Bank has pledged $500m for the region, with the bulk of the money going towards long-term projects to aid farmers; and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference has pledged $350m.

Individual countries and private organisations have donated as well.

On Tuesday, the IKEA foundation pledged $62 million in emergency relief – constituting the largest private donation that the UN refugee agency has ever received.

However, in order to meet the demands of Somalia’s growing refugees, the UN says it needs more aid – and quickly.

To learn more about the crisis in Dadaab, watch Al Jazeera’s The Stream on Tuesday at 19h30 GMT. Wadah Khanfar, the Director General of the Al Jazeera Network, will be discussing the drought in Somalia and why he chose to spend Eid al-Fitr in Dadaab.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies