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Dadaab Diary – fleeing famine

A young girl stands amid the freshly dug graves of 70 children in Dadaab. Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam
A young girl stands amid the freshly dug graves of 70 children in Dadaab

More and more people are arriving every day. They come tired and hungry, half naked and without food and water. They walk all the way from Somalia – sometimes for 10 days, sometimes even for 30 days – and they arrive with nothing. It’s a very difficult journey. Thousands make it, but they say that others die on the way. Children get attacked by hyenas, while others die from starvation as they walk in the heat and the desert. Bandits steal from them, especially the women and children, and men are often not allowed to cross the border.

The area where we are now working has about 20,000 refugees. When I started work here the area was just bushes and wild animals. Most of the refugees were farmers in Somalia but they were not able to cultivate and their crops died because of the drought and the war. When they get here they are very malnourished and they desperately need food, water and medicine.

People are so happy when they arrive, but even here the situation is desperate. As the numbers increase, the overcrowding gets worse. The children are in terrible condition. Just yesterday two young children, only a few years old, died nearby because they were so weak after their journey. You can see how thin they are, and in the daytime you sometimes see people digging graves on the edge of the camp. The children go days at a time without food on the way here, and when they arrive they are suffering from malnutrition and other dangerous illnesses like malaria and diarrhoea.

Families make shelters from anything they can find – twigs from bushes, blankets or bits of tarpaulin. Yesterday I went into one small shelter a couple of metres wide and a family of 10 people were living inside. The camp keeps getting bigger.

There are lots of problems with sanitation. In the new part of the camp there are 320 latrines for 20,000 people, and some of those latrines are already full. People have to defecate in the open – the smell is everywhere.

A new water tank is filled.  Photo: Andy Hall/Oxfam
A new water tank is filled

Our team’s work involves building communal toilets, and drilling boreholes and installing pipes and tap-stands to supply clean water to the camps. Some of the wells are up to 200 metres deep. If you add all the water pipes up the system stretches for 34 kilometres.

There are numerous international aid agencies here, but the people also help themselves. The newest arrivals get support and share food with the refugees who have been here for longer.  There is a community that looks after each other as much as they can. They are very friendly to us even though they live in such awful conditions.

We are very worried about what will happen over the next few months. The rains in many parts of Somalia are not until October, so we are expecting tens of thousands more refugees to arrive throughout August and September.  The camp is so full, I don’t know how many more people it can take.

For now we need to provide them with more help.  But really we need peace in Somalia.  The world needs to support the Somali people more when they are there, so that they don’t need to walk all this way to Kenya.

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Written by JJ Singano

JJ Singano

Josphat Joseph “JJ” Singano is Oxfam’s public health team leader in Dadaab camp. He has worked there since November 2010

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