NAIROBI, Kenya, August 19 (UNHCR)–The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is continuing to distribute emergency aid to displaced people in southern and central Somalia, reaching some 30,000 famine-struck Somalis this week alone.
Since early July, UNHCR teams have assisted some 180,000 people displaced by drought, famine or fighting. "Our plan is to reach another 180,000 internally displaced Somalis before the end of August," said spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
UNHCR flies in a third cargo of aid to Mogadishu. The assistance is bound for thousands of displaced people in the Al Adala settlement just five minutes from the airport.
This week's deliveries focused on settlements close to Villa Somalia in Mogadishu's Waaberi district, Baadheere in the Gedo Region and Sakow in Middle Juba Region. Shelter materials seem to be particularly welcome after rainfall in recent days.
"The aid we are getting in is still not enough, but little by little we are making a difference," said Bruno Geddo, UNHCR's representative to Somalia. "The most important thing to do is to alleviate the biting famine that has crippled this country by getting in as much emergency aid as possible."
Despite the withdrawal of the anti-government Al Shabaab militia force from many parts of Mogadishu almost two weeks ago, the security situation continues to restrict the movement of UNHCR staff.
In eastern Ethiopia, meanwhile, a large-scale effort is under way to address the high mortality rates among new arrivals from Somalia. Malnutrition remains the leading cause of death in four refugee camps in the Dollo Ado area, but the situation is being compounded by suspected measles and other diseases.
Following the measles vaccination of all children between the ages of six months and 15 years in Kobe camp, a second mass vaccination program began on Thursday in Melkadida, which is the biggest refugee camp in Ethiopia with a population of just under 40,000 compared to Kobe's 25,000. UNHCR has identified 166 cases of suspected measles in the four camps and 15 related deaths. Children are also being screened for malnutrition.
Children under the age of five are especially vulnerable and remain the priority focus, as they are already weakened and exhausted by hunger and the long journey to the camps. Severely malnourished children are at very high risk of complications such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and measles, which can be a fatal combination.
"We are expanding existing nutritional programs to older children and are rushing to open a dedicated stabilization center for severely acute malnourished children in Kobe camp, which has been experiencing the highest mortality rates," Mahecic said.
Together with its government counterpart and aid agencies, UNHCR is opening satellite health posts for the camps and nutritional feeding centers. Teams on the ground are working on improving sanitation and hygiene and on increasing the quantity and quality of water delivered to the camps. Refugee leaders and community outreach workers have been engaged to deliver three key messages to refugees: hand washing, use of latrines and referral of sick children to the health centers.
UNHCR is also working with the Ethiopian authorities and other partners to help a group of more than 17,500 refugees who have arrived recently through the Gode area, 250 kilometers north-east of Dollo Ado. Priority activities are life-saving interventions such as delivery of basic food assistance and medical care. The group will then be registered before a voluntary move to one of the existing camps.
In Kenya, UNHCR began populating a new part of the Dadaab refugee complex to provide shelter for tens of thousands of new Somali refugees and to ease the chronic overcrowding of the existing camps–Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera.
A group of 259 Somali refugees were the first to occupy tents at the Ifo 2 camp extension. These families were transported in buses from the outskirts of Dagahaley camp, where they initially pitched their tents some weeks ago. Movements to the third camp extension, Ifo 3, began on July 25 and are continuing now with some 18,000 refugees moved to the new location.
More than 140,000 Somali refugees have fled to Kenya since the beginning of the year–70,000 of them during June and July–overwhelming the reception capacity of Dadaab.
Meanwhile in Djibouti, the authorities are working to reopen the old Holl-Holl camp to house the more than 3,500 Somalis who have arrived this year. An existing camp called Ali Addeh is already overcrowded with 17,000 refugees from previous influxes.
"Much work remains to be done to prepare the site for the new refugees, including digging boreholes for water, building latrines, a health center and school," Mahecic said, adding: "We hope the camp can start receiving refugees by mid-September."
The new arrivals are encamped at a nearby transit center, where they receive counseling, medical attention, hot meals and relief items. However, the center is not equipped to house refugees for more than two weeks and the influx is straining limited resources. Water shortage is a big problem.