Humanitarian crisis imminent in Somali refugee camp

Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees will face a humanitarian emergency this year, unless urgent steps are taken to deal with a serious public health crisis unfolding in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, international agency Oxfam warned in a new report issued today.

The Kenyan government, international donors and aid agencies must all immediately take action to address the crisis, Oxfam said.

Dadaab is one of the world’s largest concentrations of refugees. Its population now stands at more than 250,000, almost three times its intended size. Up to 100,000 more people are likely to arrive by the end of this year, as Somalis continue to flee violence and seek refuge in Kenya.

A new Oxfam assessment of the humanitarian situation in the camp has uncovered a serious public health crisis caused by a lack of basic services, severe overcrowding and a chronic lack of funding. More than 20 cases of cholera have been confirmed. Kenya recently closed its border with Somalia, yet refugees continue to arrive daily and the border closure is actually exacerbating the crisis, the report found.

Philippa Crosland-Taylor, head of Oxfam GB in Kenya, said:
“Conditions in Dadaab are dire and need immediate attention. People are not getting the aid they are entitled to. Half of the people in the camp do not have access to enough water. Women and children – who make up over half Dadaab’s population – very rarely have access to adequate latrines.”

Oxfam's report recommended that:

  • The Kenyan government should re-open the Kenya-Somalia border, and provide additional land near to Dadaab for a new site to ease the overcrowding;
  • International donor governments must urgently respond to UNHCR's appeals for more funding to deal with the crisis;
  • The UN and aid agencies should ensure that recent increased efforts to address the crisis are sustained, and that local Kenyan communities near Dadaab are not neglected.

The Kenyan government’s decision to close the border has not stopped refugees coming – but it has made conditions much worse for them and their Kenyan neighbors, and has added to health risks in the camp. Reception centers on the border run by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) used to give health checks to new refugees. However, as a result of the border closure, these centers were closed down, meaning new arrivals no longer receive the health checks before reaching the camp. In such overcrowded conditions, even a single case of cholera can spread rapidly.

Crosland-Taylor said:

“Until there is a lasting peace in Somalia, many more people will continue to flee. The Kenyan government must address this humanitarian crisis, rather than ignoring it. An open but managed border will allow Kenya to meet its legitimate security concerns, but also allow refugees to receive the assistance to which they are entitled under international law.”

The situation in Dadaab has led to increased tensions between Somali refugees and the local Kenyan community, particularly over rights to land and resources such as water and trees.

Philippa Crosland-Taylor said:

“Dadaab is in a very poor region and the needs of the local communities must not be forgotten. More funds are needed for aid agencies to help local people as well as refugees. Scarce natural resources have to be shared by everyone, and projects are needed to explore alternative technologies and ways of ensuring that those resources are managed in an equitable and sustainable way.”

Notes to editors

Oxfam undertook the assessment in its capacity as the global lead agency for water and sanitation emergencies. Following the assessment, Oxfam has offered to help set up new water and sanitation systems for a new site near Dadaab, if additional land and funding is allocated as recommended.

Since the start of 2008, Oxfam has invested more than USD$6m into emergency activities for people displaced by conflict and living in desperate need across Somalia. Through a network of local Somali partners, we have carried out activities across Somalia, currently reaching over 350,000 people.

Oxfam aims to bring about lasting change by addressing policy and practice at multiple levels. Oxfam is actively engaged in lobbying and advocacy work on a range of issues regarding the crisis in Somalia.

Read the assessment: Addressing the Humanitarian Crisis on the Kenya/Somalia Border, March 2009 (pdf, 43kb)

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