The living conditions in the camps in Afgooye are very bad. Families are sheltering in tiny huts, pieced together from plastic bags and sticks. Credit : Hassan Noor/Oxfam
The most urgent need is for shelter, but clean water, food, medicine are desperately needed

Somalia conflict: camps are 'barely fit for humans'; international response inadequate

“Why does it seem like you matter less in this world if you are from Somalia?”
Robbert Van den Berg
Spokesperson for the Horn of Africa, Oxfam International
Published: 3 September 2009

A total failure of the international community to deal effectively with the Somalia crisis and help end the war is resulting in a spiral of human suffering and exodus to neighboring countries, warns international agency Oxfam. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled the violence are now trapped in horrifically overcrowded or poorly managed camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia itself.

Oxfam says poor sanitation and little access to basic services such as water and medicine due to an ineffective response are creating a public health emergency in camps, which needs to be urgently addressed.

“Somalis flee one of the world’s most brutal conflicts and a desperate drought, only to end up in unimaginable conditions in camps that are barely fit for humans. Hundreds of thousands of children are affected, and the world is abandoning the next generation of Somalis when they most need our help. Why does it seem like you matter less in this world if you are from Somalia?” said Robbert Van den Berg Oxfam International’s spokesman for the Horn of Africa.

Somalia has recently seen a major increase in conflict, and the country is suffering its worst drought in a decade. The failure of the international community to address adequately these overcrowded and unsanitary camps is shameful given the level of need and human suffering,

In Northern Kenya, each and every month, around 8,000 Somali refugees pour into Dadaab camp. Now home to 280,000 people, the camp was originally built to only house a third of that amount. The severe overcrowding means many families do not have regular access to latrines or clean water, and in some of the worst parts of the camp over 20 families share one single latrine. “The Kenyan government has repeatedly promised to provide more land to ease the overcrowding but has so far failed to do so, despite the urgent and critical needs. More pressure from the international community is needed to make it happen”, Van den Berg continued.

In Ethiopia’s Bokolmayo camp, almost 10,000 people are already in the camp and nearly 1,000 people a month continue to arrive. Yet the current infrastructure and services are insufficient to cope with more arrivals, and there is still an important funding gap for the operation. The UN refugee agency’s response to the impending crisis has been weak and inefficient. Oxfam called on the agency to exercise much greater leadership in ensuring Somalis get adequate assistance by supporting host countries to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis.

In Somalia many of those fleeing Mogadishu have looked for refuge in the nearby Afgooye area, which with up to at least 485,000 people sheltering on a 15km strip of land is now said to be the world’s densest concentration of displaced people. The high insecurity makes it extremely difficult for international agencies to deliver enough aid to meet people’s needs. Somalis themselves are now on the frontline of delivering aid through their local organisations, yet they lack funds to carry out their life-saving work and need much more support from donors.

“In all three locations – Afgooye, Dadaab and Bokolmayo – the services being provided to vulnerable and desperate people are far below international standards. While NGOs need to scale up their response, donors cannot shy away from providing funding for this emergency. This is a human tragedy of unthinkable proportions where countless people have now been deprived of a home and a sense of normality for months and months,” said Van den Berg.

“Ultimately, the root cause of the problems in all of these camps is the ongoing conflict, lawlessness and humanitarian disaster inside Somalia. Our governments must put Somalia top of their list and do more than simply keeping the country on life-support. What we need is a different approach and sustained senior level commitment to end this outrageous human suffering that has been going on for over 15 years,” he said.

Notes to Editors

Oxfam’s humanitarian work in the region:
Afgooye: Oxfam and its partners are providing water to at least 200,000 people. In the aftermath of the new surge of violence, Oxfam and its partners are also providing shelter and mosquito nets to families who have fled there. In addition, working with a local partner, Oxfam has just launched a community therapeutic Care program (CTC) to treat 3000 severely malnourished children and over 13,000 moderately malnourished children.
Bokolmayo: Oxfam is providing water and sanitation to at least 9,000 people in the camp, and preparing to assist further new arrivals if more funding can be confirmed.
Dadaab: Oxfam has carried out health assessments in the camp and provided technical support to agencies working there. Oxfam is calling for the Kenyan government to provide more land, and has committed to scaling up health and sanitation work if this is done.
Note: There are now 1.4 million displaced people in Somalia and more than half a million refugees in countries around the region, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, Uganda, Eritrea, Tanzania and Djibouti.