Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees are seeking shelter at the Dadaab refugee camp complex in northeastern Kenya.
The camps were overcrowded even before the drought and famine forced many Somalis to cross the border. Fighting between pro-government forces and militias over many years has led to what many called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Numerous aid agencies are now working at Dadaab. On Monday, Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International, visited the camps.
“It’s pretty crowded. It’s very hot. It’s a pretty challenging place for families to turn up starving and thirsty,” he said
Somalis arriving at Dadaab are registered and given a health screening.
“There [are] a lot of people in a very crowded place in a very hot, dusty environment with nothing much to do but survive. So that’s a big challenge,” he said.
Hobbs said Oxfam members talked to many refugees at the camp. He described many of their stories as harrowing.
“We talked to a number of women because a lot of women have come without their husbands. The husbands have had to dodge for security reasons,” he said.
Many of the women have walked for 15 to 20 days to get to Dadaab.
“Some are heartbreaking stories of having to leave children who were too weak to continue walking. The women I spoke to this morning just looked – I wouldn’t say traumatized – but just completely defeated. But also relieved to be somewhere safe for their kids and able to get some food and some water,” said Hobbs.
“I’m standing in kilometers of plastic piping here because we put in the water and sanitation systems for these camps. In fact, where I’m standing now will be a camp for about 80,000 people. So we put in the hard infrastructure that provides the clean water – the bores, the big gravity fed water tanks, the capstans and the pipes. But along side that we put in latrines,” he said.
Latrines provide not only more privacy, but dignity as well. Also, it is safer for women, who may risk be raped or assaulted if they leave the camp.
“We also put in support for public health and hygiene. Basically teaching people about how to use those amenities properly and safely,” he said.
At Dadaab, you have to dig deep for water.
Hobbs said, “I was astonished to find that in Dadaab they have to go down 200 meters because it’s saline if they don’t go below 180. Pretty challenging for our drilling team.”
Oxfam also has water and sanitation projects in southern Somalia, but Hobbs would not give the exact whereabouts for security reasons. Oxfam hopes the projects will allow people to remain in the drought-stricken areas and not travel up to 20 days to reach Dadaab.
“We can actually run quite a substantial program in Somalia and we do it through partners. We’re basically reaching out to about 300,000 people…. And we’re reach quite a large number of people, about 3,000 a week, children, with therapeutic nutrition,” he said.