International 15/08/2011

At world's biggest refugee camp, UN relief chief calls for more aid for Somalis

The United Nations humanitarian chief today toured the world's largest refugee camp, telling residents of Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya that the international community must do more to help the large number of famine-stricken Somalis who continue to cross the nearby border to seek aid.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, visited Dadaab at the end of a three-day mission to Somalia and Kenya to see first-hand the crisis gripping Horn of Africa, where drought, failed harvests and conflict have pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

Dadaab is now home to more than 400,000 registered refugees, nearly all of them Somali, with an estimated 70,000 people having arrived in the past two months as conditions in their homeland rapidly deteriorate.

The UN has formally declared a state of famine in five regions in southern and central Somalia, and the number at people in need of food aid and humanitarian assistance across the wider region is more than 12 million.

Ms. Amos noted that the number of refugees arriving at Dadaab, which is being expanded to accommodate the influx, has fallen in recent weeks.

But she added that many children are still arriving in a state of severe malnourishment.

“We need to do more to help people in Somalia,” she said after meeting one woman whose four children all perished on her journey to Dadaab. “No one should have to endure such suffering.”

Although Somalia is the hardest hit, the Horn of Africa crisis is affecting Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti as well, and Ms. Amos thanked Kenya's Government and people for the support they are giving to Somali refugees despite their own severe drought conditions.

UN agencies are working with partner organizations to ease the overcrowding within Dadaab and to provide improved health care, schooling, water and sanitation for camp residents.

During her visit Ms. Amos also visited a nearby community that is hosting Somali refugees and trying to strengthen its own long-term environmental sustainability.

“I am heartened by this. We have to do all we can to help people now, but we must also work together to build the long-term resilience of communities that are now facing drought conditions every two years rather than every 10 years, as was the case in the past.”

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