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Photo by Melanie Blanding/Genesis

Food, water & some rain needed

Africa | Victims of the Horn of Africa famine aren't through suffering

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

Across the Horn of Africa farmers are waiting for rains that usually arrive in October. The seasonal rains cannot come too early for those suffering famine conditions brought on by the worst drought in 60 years-and by Somalian militants and others who have blocked aid and development. Since UN officials declared Somalia and parts of Ethiopia and Kenya under famine in July, the caseload of those requiring food aid has grown exponentially, to over 12 million.

In Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp needy Somalis are arriving at the rate of about 800 per day, say aid groups working there. That's down from the 1,500 to 1,800 that were showing up every day in July. Zeinab Abdi Wajir said she walked for two months from her village Garissa, a Kenyan city near Dadaab and had no place to stay after two weeks there and learning about overcrowded conditions at Dadaab. The camp was built to house 90,000 but over the summer swelled to more than a half a million as famine has worsened.

Aid groups have been unable to keep pace with demand, so "old refugees," some of whom have lived in Dadaab since civil war in Somalia began 20 years ago, have organized their own food distributions for new arrivals. Twice a month they share basmati rice from one of the camp's community warehouses. The new arrivals receive pink ration cards they must display in order to receive the rations. Tensions have mounted as older residents have taken to rationing both food and water supplies distributed to the latest arrivals.

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New refugees also have overtaxed the camp's medical facilities, where the UN for years has relied on private aid groups to supply both needed staff and medicine. Not surprisingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting a rapid spread of diseases like cholera and measles as families crowd into distribution points in search of food. Habibo Dubo arrived at a hospital run by the International Rescue Committee with her 1-year-old son, her husband, and three other children after a 30-day trek from Somalia. The family said they lost all 30 cattle that they owned to the drought.

Samaritan's Purse field worker Ruco Van Der Merwe said acute malnutrition rates among children his group has surveyed "are extremely, extremely high" despite one-month supplies of corn and soybeans now reaching famine-affected areas. Abdil Rashid Mohamed, an aid specialist in northeastern Kenya, said "Without food and water, they will die."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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