Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The increasing number of starving Somali refugee entering Kenya has been overwhelming, In a country already faced its own starvation, the influx of new arrivals is making the situation worse.
Daadab refugee camp now worlds biggest camp is full leading humanitarian emergency that now threatens thousands of lives. The camp which was meant for 90,000 people, it's current population is expected to be more than four times its capacity.
A sprawling desert in North Eastern Kenya, Daadab, comprises of three camps, Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera camps. Hundreds of new arrivals trek for weeks in the hope that the 'desert camp' will be better than home.
“we come here because there is nothing left at home, there is the fighting and help doesn't get to where we live so we came here” says a mother of three who arrived a few days ago.
On arrival, the new arrivals would queue for long hours in the heat where they await to be given enough supplies to create a make make shift home, cooking utensils, a mat they can sleep on and most importantly ration card where they would be able to get food.
However the huge arrivals doesn't seem to go well with the host community in Northern Kenya as they too fill the pinch of overcrowding by the refugees, as a county they do not have much going on and the situation is made worse.
North Eastern Kenya, home to the camp and mainly Somali residents, has been neglected for a long time by the central government and the residents have had to depend on humanitarian agencies.
Since independent the county has not seen any developments from the government.
The region that has largely remained deserted by the central government since independence, lack of infrastructure among other problems have made the situation worse.
There have been constant rivalries between the residents in North Eastern Kenya and the refugees from the camp.
The residents have complained that the government of Kenya has considered them as refugees, for this reason they have been forgotten and the humanitarian organisations just cater for the refugees needs.
To reduce the constant chaos between the two groups, the humanitarian organisations also started different water projects for the community. Although different humanitarian organisations have raised a red flag and launched international appeal campaign to help raise funds to assist drought hit population, much more still needs to be done.
Failure of the government to plan and focus on long term projects has made the situation unbearable for the residents from the upper North Eastern region, and now it’s worsened by the huge number of refugees streaming in to the country.
The faces of hunger and famine have become part of recurrent shame as drought hits the East African region once again. I have to say, this did not come as a surprise – the writing has been on the wall as early as last year August.
The weather man had predicted that we should be prepared for the hard times ahead and as the region we needed to plan before the situation becomes fatal but due to poor planning and lack immediate help, the situation was made worse.
In the war torn country Somalia, the situation is made worse by the conflicts between the weak transitional government and militant group Al Shabaab which controls much of Southern Somalia.
The group which is said to have links to Al Qaeda have not made it easy for the Somali civilians, even after the famine situation was reported early they blocked outside help from getting into the country.
Fear of killing Aid workers, kidnapping and charging these organisations made the international community worry that they could be funding the group indirectly leading to some of the humanitarian organisations to close down their offices in Somalia.
The fighting and corruption between the Western backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is turning out to be an embarrassment to a country seeking for an international help.
The TFG which lacks the people’s support has failed to put aside policies that would save the population and has instead been accused of prolonging the conflict and famine in Somalia. Corruption and infighting in the government has worsened the situation.
The international community are also to blame. They were briefed and warned of the current situation long before it even started but they have failed to deliver help in time. The situation was getting out of hand with hundreds facing starvation and that’s when the internal community reacted.
Earlier on, military group Al Shabaab taxed food that was coming from the humanitarian organisations, and this made western countries delay funding which would have done something to help the current situation.
The world has undoubtedly responded immensely well to the current situation, but it would be a happy day for everyone if as much focus was placed on long-term programmes to build spirit in communities, as is now on placed feeding the hungry.
Although the current situation can also be blamed on climate change, failure of governments to focus on agriculture and irrigation schemes; until that time when a different approach is taken, the cycle is bound to reoccur.
Suddenly there is drought again! Although some the pictures we see once again maybe shocking this is perennial shame that we face each year as a country. Personally am no stranger to stories of people, including children dying due to starvation.
I have witnessed animals dying in their hundreds, sometimes in their thousands, men and women suffering from scorching sun with no water to quench their thirst. But this year, the situation has gotten out of hand.
Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya is facing its worst drought in 60 years with 10 million people said to face starvation and the UN reporting this as an ‘emergency situation’.
During this time, as much as I wish I was in Kenya covering first hand about the situation in the region, am instead in the UK attached to one of the biggest newspaper in the world The Guardian and I can only rely on information I get by friends and contacts in the ground and the stories I read about the situation, but then again again I can actually relate to it.
In Kenya, the situation could have been avoided, the dry spell was long predicted and the government could have acted sooner but as always we never act until the situation gets desperate.
Personally I have the Kenyan government to blame, they have failed to invest in arid and semi-arid areas which has caused the regions to be perennially vulnerable to drought.
Once you are in the region you will feel the absence of infrastructure and basic services such as health and education. The limit access to national and international market has made the lands vulnerable.
Two years ago, National Drought Contingency Fund was formed to accumulate money for drought responses during good years and quickly disburse it during times of need, but this was never to happen.
Despite the presence of drought warning system, the government strategies remain gloomily wanting, therefore the country is again caught unprepared and in dire need of humanitarian crisis.
Earlier this year through its Ministry of Agriculture, the government reported that there was food stock to last for almost a year and contingency measures were put in place following drought forecasts.
Four months after the announcement, 3.5 million are facing starvation in the country begging the question where did the stock go?As if it’s not bad enough with the worst crisis of drought, famine emerge at a time when the food prices have risen to an alarming level.
The situation is made worse by the hundreds of refugees arriving from Somalia who flee the war torn country crossing the border into Kenya in one of the biggest refugee camp which is now on the verge of collapse because of its high population.
The biggest setback faced by Kenya like many other African countries, is lack of forward planning and inadequate response to crisis.
This should serve as a lesson to the Kenyan government and the East Africa as a whole, a contingency plan for food security should be planned given the known of drought cycle.
Urgent reviews of the food security policy and its sustainability should again be planned and anything short of this would spell a vicious cycle of more doom come next year.