News / Africa

US Official Decries Slow Progress Reducing Somalia's Child Mortality Rates

Refugees rest outside in an open area as there is lack of tents at the Dollo Ado refugee camp, Ethiopia, Thursday, July 7, 2011 (file photo)
Refugees rest outside in an open area as there is lack of tents at the Dollo Ado refugee camp, Ethiopia, Thursday, July 7, 2011 (file photo)

The top U.S. official for refugee issues says that despite intensive efforts, relief agencies have made little progress in reducing child mortality rates at refugee camps along Somalia's border with Ethiopia. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Reuben Brigety made the comment as he returned from Dollo Ado, a sprawling camp complex in Ethiopia that houses 120,000 refugees from famine-stricken southern Somalia.

Brigety, the U.S. government’s point man for refugee and migration affairs, has just returned from his third overnight visit to Dollo Ado this year.

He tells VOA that humanitarian agencies have made impressive progress in establishing health facilities and registering the backlog of refugees arriving daily from Somalia’s famine zone. But he said children are still dying at an alarming rate of malnutrition and other complications, such as measles.

"The level of mortality is still as high as it was two months ago. There was a measles outbreak recently, which fortunately actors responded to with a great deal of alacrity. But we’re seeing rates of malnutrition among the young children coming in that are as high as they were six weeks ago, so we have to work harder to figure out how we can bring those things down," he said.

Unacceptable mortality rate

Brigety said at the worst of the four Dollo Ado camps, the mortality rate among children under five is more than 15 per 10,000 per day.

The overall famine death toll among Somalis is believed to be well over 30,000 and rising daily. But the heart of the famine zone in southern Somalia is closed to humanitarian workers. It is controlled by the Islamic radical group al-Shabab, making it is impossible to know how many more are dying.

Brigety said those staying in Somalia likely are in worse condition than those who have made it to the camps.

"Those that remain behind, large numbers of them presumably would like to leave but simply don’t have the physical strength or can’t muster the resources to be able to move," he said. "We know there is very little to no food in the al-Shabab-held areas of south-central Somalia, which is why these areas have been declared in famine, and why we anticipate all of south-central Somalia to be in famine by October."

Breaking al-Shabab's grip

Brigety said newly-arrived refugees he has spoken to usually have little or no knowledge of al-Shabab or Somalia’s political failures that led to the famine. They are just in desperate need of help.

"One young mother, who couldn’t have been more than 20, nursing her little child, said she doesn’t know what the future holds for her, she’s just here and God will determine what happens to her. They have no affinity for al-Shabab whatsoever. These are people that are not political, they don’t have a particular ideology or agenda. They just want to survive," said Brigety.

The U.S. official said sleeping in a tent in the dust-blown Dollo Ado camp gives him a sense of the challenges facing the humanitarian workers trying to save countless children suffering severe malnutrition, measles and more.

"Just from my stay overnight, when I came back to have a shower, I was wiping dust out of my ears for a while and that’s just when I was there overnight. For the people who have to live in that environment, living through constant dust storms and constant heat, they are alive, but beyond that it’s an incredibly challenging existence," he said.

Brigety said his main worry is that famine will kill tens of thousands more people in short order unless the international community is able to intervene in Shabab-controlled areas inside Somalia in what he called “unfettered and robust fashion."

You May Like

Photogallery Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs