As Drought Grips East Africa, Thousands of Children Flee to Kenya

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WESTPORT, Conn. (June 28, 2011) — Save the Children staff working in Kenya’s largest refugee camp says hundreds of children are arriving daily from Somalia exhausted, malnourished and dehydrated.

According to the United Nations, more than 800 children arrive daily in Dadaab, Kenya’s largest refugee camp, fleeing the drought in neighboring Somalia and other parts of East Africa.

Save the Children has launched an emergency response to help children at risk from East Africa’s drought — the worst that many in the region have experienced in decades. Save the Children is treating malnourished children, providing food and water to vulnerable communities and working to help people cope with more frequent droughts caused by a changing climate.

Combined with soaring global food prices, the drought has left thousands of children in parts of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia malnourished and millions of others in danger.

Some families say the drought and food crisis forced them to walk for more than a month through intense heat in search of food, water and shelter. Many discarded the few possessions they had along the way.

Fatuma, a mother of four, spent six weeks walking hundreds of miles to Dadaab with her family. Her children, the youngest of whom is 3 years old, walked the distance barefoot.

“The weather was very harsh. It was so hot, and there was very little shelter,” Fatuma said. “Water was a problem. We had a well in my village, but it dried up. Then the one in the next village dried up. We knew it was time to go.”

Some 20,000 people have arrived in Dadaab during the last two weeks alone, a sharp rise compared with the average of 4,000 to 6,000 refugees per month last year. Around two thirds of the new arrivals are children, according to official UNHCR figures.

“We are seeing around 1,300 people arriving in Dadaab every day, some in incredibly dire situations,” said Save the Children’s Kenya Program Director Catherine Fitzgibbon. “Children have made long journeys in terrifying conditions, often losing their families along the way and arriving at the camps in desperate need of security, health care and a normal life.”

“Nearly every child or parent we have spoken to says they are not just fleeing fighting in Somalia; the drought and food crisis are equally perilous to them now.”

The influx of refugees is placing further strain on space and resources at Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, which was originally built to house 90,000 people. The camp is now Kenya’s third largest “town”, home to more than 360,000 refugees.

With the camp already stretched to capacity, Save the Children says the number of new people will only make conditions worse for children already living in Dadaab without sufficient food, shelter and protection.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
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