Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Drought 'worst humanitarian crisis'

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres visits Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya (AP)
Somali women walk through an area informally housing recent arrivals on the outskirts of Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya (AP)
Members of the family of Rage Mohamed construct the frame for a makeshift shelter, built around a thorny acacia tree (AP)

The head of the United Nations refugee agency has said that drought-ridden Somalia is the "worst humanitarian disaster" in the world.

The comments by UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres came after he met starving people who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world's largest refugee camp.

The Kenyan camp, Dadaab, is overflowing with tens of thousands of newly-arrived refugees forced into the camp by the parched landscape in the region where Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya meet.

The World Food Programme estimates that 10 million people already need humanitarian aid and the UN Children's Fund estimates that more than two million youngsters are malnourished and in need of life-saving action.

Mr Guterres appealed to the world to supply the "massive support" needed by thousands of refugees showing up at this camp every week. More than 380,000 refugees now live there.

In Dadaab, he spoke to a Somalia mother who lost three of her children during a 35-day walk to reach the camp. Mr Guterres said Dadaab held "the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the vulnerable". "I became a bit insane after I lost them," said the mother, Muslima Aden. "I lost them in different times on my way."

Mr Guterres is on a tour of the region to highlight the dire need. On Thursday he was in the Ethiopian camp of Dollo Ado, a camp that is also overflowing.

"The mortality rates we are witnessing are three times the level of emergency ceilings," he said. "The level of malnutrition of the children coming in is 50%. That is enough to explain why a very high level of mortality is inevitable," he said.

Dr Dejene Kebede, a health officer for UNHCR, said there were 58 deaths in camps in one week alone in June. Most of the deaths take place at the registration office and transition facilities of the refugee camps in the south-eastern Dollo region of Ethiopia.

Up to 2,000 Somali refugees are crossing the border into Ethiopia every day, UNHCR said. Thousands of families arrive in poor conditions often after walking for days in search of food. Mr Guterres said the influx was overwhelming for UNHCR and other international and local aid organisations: "Nothing can compare to what we have seen this month."

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