· UN High Commissioner for Refugees denounces the conditions of Somalian refugees ·
Almost 400,000 people crammed into a camp in Dadaab, Kenya
The worst humanitarian disaster in the world is occurring in Somalia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, said yesterday after visiting the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, near the Somalian border. Dadaab is the site of the largest refugee camp in the world, hosting more than 400,000 people, many more than the structure can contain and with thousands more arriving each day. Guterres spoke of a situation which has become desperate. Data from UNHCR in the last few weeks reveals that 1,700 new refugees from Somalia arrive daily, fleeing the devastating drought which has hit the Horn of Africa and especially Somalia, which is also affected by a 20-year-long civil war which shows no signs of abating.
Refugees arrive in Kenya after journeying for weeks and the mortality rate in Dadaab is very high due to insufficient food supplies. The malnutrition rate amongst the new arrivals and especially babies is also alarmingly high. Many mothers have told UNHCR and humanitarian personnel that their children have died en route due to the extenuating circumstances of the journey. A similar situation is occurring for Somali refugees heading for Ethiopia, who were also visited in the last few days by Guterres. Since the beginning of the year, around 54,000 Somalis have arrived in Ethiopia, 80% are women and children. Half of these refugees are seriously ill from malnutrition. Amongst these young refugees, already weakened by the journey, the incidence of illness is the highest registered today in the world.
The consequences of the drought, together with the civil war, make Somalia the most devastated country in the Horn of Africa. But the situation is also dramatic throughout the entire region, from Kenya to Ethiopia, to Djibouti and Tanzania. According to UN agencies, more than 2 million babies in the Horn of Africa are malnourished and need urgent assistance to save their lives. A half a million of these babies are in imminent danger for survival, with long-term consequences for their physical and mental development.
More generally, it is estimated that 10 million people need immediate humanitarian assistance, more than double the number that UN agencies are currently able to assist. It is the worst crisis in fifty years in a region that unfortunately is not unfamiliar with drought. Conditions of many families are worsened by the duration of the drought and the massive increase in food prices. In this case, too, Somalia is the hardest hit, with at least a third of the population in need of assistance, without counting those who have fled to other countries.
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