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The refugee camp you did not know about

October 20th, 2011

Exactly three months ago, the United Nations declared famine in Somalia. Throughout the entire Horn of Africa, drought has thrown more than 13 million people into a humanitarian crisis with no quick fix in sight. My colleagues and I have already shared our impressions about what we have seen in the region – and you certainly have seen the shocking images of hunger and misery from the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya. The situation in Dadaab is more serious than ever, but it is not the only hot spot – which is why today I have invited ECHO’s regional information officer Bea Spadacini to tell you more about Dollo Ado, another camp where humanitarian struggle daily to save, cure and feed people.

For several months now, the world has been hearing about the drought which ravages the Horn of Africa, leaving millions of people at risk of starvation in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The media have paid a lot of attention to the Dadaab refugee camps in Northern Kenya. Built for 90,000 people, the camps now host almost half a million. And they keep growing.

But Dadaab is only one piece of the puzzle: many Somalis who flee drought and violence also head towards Ethiopia and the Dollo Ado refugee camps which are just eight kilometers from the border. The four camps, spread over a stretch of arid land, now host 130,000 refugees. Since the beginning of this year, more than 80,000 newcomers have reached Dollo Ado – only in the first two weeks of October, almost 5,000 refugees have found shelter here. To respond to the influx, two new camps have been built this year. Another is due to open in the coming weeks.

Set in an isolated area where the only mobile coverage is that of the Somali operators, these camps receive far less visibility, although the situation there is equally urgent. In July, for instance, mortality rates reached four times above the emergency threshold, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

This alarming trend has been brought under control thanks to Doctors without Borders and the International Medical Corps, but Dollo Ado is still a place where huge challenges need to be tackled every day: malnutrition levels of children under five need to be monitored, supplementary feeding needs to be supplied, sanitary needs have to be met and vaccination campaigns are the only prevention against an epidemics. The European Commission is responding to these challenges – it has allocated more than €14 million to humanitarian operations in the Dollo Ado camps.

Protection is another concern. A survey carried out by UNICEF and Save the Children estimated that there are at least 2,500 unaccompanied children in the Dollo Ado camps. According to UNHCR, 53.4% of the population in the four camps is female and 61.9% is under the age of 18.

Sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and physical assault have been identified as some of the most pressing risks for the women and girls in the camps. Collecting firewood for personal use or for sale is a hazardous activity for refugee women, for this is when they are most exposed to attacks.

European Union partner organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are trying to boost the safety of women and girls – for example, female-only safe spaces have been created, where women can report protection concerns and access specialized services.

Hygiene is another challenge: most refugees here have lived in rural areas all their lives and have never seen a latrine before, let alone participated in a focus group discussion on protection issues. So, sanitation still has a long way to go but progress is slowly happening.

Unlike Dadaab, where the Somali refugee population is more settled, the Dollo Ado camps are a relatively recent phenomenon. The infrastructure there remains weak and aid agencies, together with the government of Ethiopia, are scrambling to meet the humanitarian needs of Somalis crossing the border. Away from the media limelight, a tireless battalion of aid workers is saving lives and setting up a basic operational infrastructure. The European Union is standing firm behind them.

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