Sarah Wilson is currently visiting Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya
Sarah Wilson is Christian Aid’s international journalist. She’s currently in northern Kenya reporting on the latest drought and food crisis to hit the region. Read her latest report below.
After 18 months without rain the situation for pastoralists and farmers in northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia is becoming critical.
The region is prone to drought, but this is the most prolonged and severe in the past 60 years. The link between the lack of rains and global climate change cannot be ruled out.
Dadaab refugee camp was opened in Kenya near the border with Somalia in 1991 when the Somali government collapsed. It was originally designed to accommodate 90,000 people. It has remained opened ever since as the political situation in Somalia has failed to improve.
The long-running drought has left people desperate for food and water across the region. This has led to a massive influx of refugees from Somalia flooding into the camp in recent months. There are now nearly 400,000 people living in Dadaab, making it the largest refugee camp in the world.
Lennart Hernander, who runs the Lutheran World Federation operation in Kenya, explained: ‘There were 42,000 new refugees registered in Dadaab between January and May 2011. In the month of June alone, there were a further 38,000 registered. There are now between 1,300 and 1,500 people arriving every day.
‘There were 42,000 new refugees registered in Dadaab between January and May 2011. In the month of June alone, there were a further 38,000 registered. ’
`The sheer weight of numbers means that the registration process take 15 days, so we are now giving people a basic food ration, tents or tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats and firewood as soon as they arrive.’
One reason that registration is time consuming is that people have to be searched for weapons to avoid infiltration by armed groups like the Al Shabaab militias, who are now controlling parts of Somalia.
The LWF is a sister organisation of Christian Aid in the ACT Alliance, a global network of faith-based charities.
This huge influx of refugees is placing more pressure on the local Kenyan population who are also suffering from the effects of the drought. One solution Christian Aid is proposing if enough appeal funds can be raised would be to buy cattle from struggling pastoralists before they become too emaciated to have any market value.
Local organisations would then distribute the meat to the most vulnerable people in the community and the pastoralists would have the proceeds from the sale to enable them to restock when the drought ends.
Nick Guttmann, head of emergency relief at Christian Aid explains: `The timing is critical if we are to mount such an operation. It has to be done now. In a month’s time the cattle will be dead.’
Northern Aid, an organisation supported by Christian Aid, has trained local people to regulate and maintain the boreholes in the drought hit areas. The lack of water means that the boreholes are being used constantly, 24 hours a day, so they are particularly prone to break down.
Jarso Mokku, the head of programmes for Northern Aid, explains: `If a borehole is allowed to deteriorate it has a huge knock on effect. It means that pastoralists will have to walk many miles with their cattle to the next one, and with cattle already weak from hunger, they may not survive the journey.
`We make sure that we have the parts on hand and engineers on call to repair boreholes at the first sign of trouble so that we can ensure continuous service.’