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Kenya: Death and Desperation in Dadaab

21 September: Justin blogs from the Somali capital Mogadishu

Yesterday I spent the day in Dadaab refugee camp, a camp in Kenya near the Somalia border. A camp which has swelled to the size of Bristol – some 370,000 people. I was both inspired and heart broken by what I saw and heard.

Like 1400 to 2000 Somali refugees do every day, I started my day at a reception centre for new arrivals. Many families have walked weeks to get here through terrible conditions and arrive exhausted, dehydrated and hungry.

The children are malnourished, often needing instant life saving help. Families are given basic rations and supplies to last them for three weeks.

Feet raw and bloodied

Refugees who’ve been in Dadaab for a longer period of time distribute clothes they’ve collected for the more desperate new arrivals.

Many children are arriving unaccompanied having made the long, exhausting journey on their own. Save the Children staff help make sure they’re safe and find relatives or other families who will look after them until they can be reunited with their own family.

One family I met described the long walk from Somalia they’d endured without food and water. They were exhausted when they arrived in Dadaab, their four children’s feet raw and bloodied, desperate for help. This is not unusual.

Attacked by bandits

We then went to visit recently arrived families on the edge of the camp, living in makeshift shelters in very basic conditions. What they call ‘the outskirts’.

We came across a family burying Hawa, a little two year old girl. She had died of diarrhoea. Her family had walked for 15 days through the bush, they had been attacked by bandits, the women raped and all their possessions stolen.

Four of the men in their clan were still being held by the bandits. After surviving all this suffering Hawa tragically died a few days after arriving at the camp. No child should be born to die like this. No parent should have to see their child die from diarrhoea.


At one of the three camp hospitals a nurse showed us the stabilisation unit for severely malnourished children. The clinic has been overwhelmed with ill children, fighting for their lives.

When you see a child, painfully thin, on a drip and receiving emergency help it is heart breaking. The nurses and doctors saving these tiny lives are real heroes.

Save the Children lead in the camps on what is called child protection — identifying very vulnerable children who have seen their parents killed, been raped or are alone. We also run clubs where children can play – an important way of overcoming the trauma of their ordeal.

Innovative project

It was amazing, after seeing so much suffering, to again see children laugh and play. The contrast with Hawa and the clinic moved me to tears as the tragedy of so many hit home.

I finished the day seeing another inspiring and innovative project that provide fresh vegetables to all six to twelve month old children in the camp.

Rather than hand out food aid we give vouchers that can be exchanged with refugee market traders in the old part of the camp for fresh fruit and vegetables. This innovative project both reduces child malnutrition and helps refugees earn a living. A double benefit.

Anger and pride

As we left for the Save the Children compound on the edge of camp I felt angry and sad that this could still happen in 2011. That families have to walk weeks, fleeing drought and war, facing terrible dangers to get help. Sometimes just to watch their children die.

But I also felt pride that the huge outpouring of support can and is making a difference and that children are alive because of that help.

In the coming weeks we will scale up our response in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia to save lives. It is vital governments also act quicker and more generously. We can stop this becoming even worse if we act decisively now.

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