DADAAB, Kenya, (August 15, 2011) — When the skies fill with a grey blanket of thick clouds and the wind blows hard, anywhere else in the world would be expecting rain – but Dadaab, the sprawl of refugee camps on the Kenya/Somali border, is not anywhere else in the world, and there is little chance of rainfall here in this drought-hit region of east Africa.
Rain would be a welcome relief for Ibdio. Her life was hard even before coming to Dadaab. She had her first child at the age of 11. She is now a 25-year-old single mother of three boys and her older son, Faisal, is 14.
Ibdio and her family came to Dadaab some ten days ago and, like the rest of the estimated 1,300 people who arrive every day, they had to find space in the over-crowded camp – settling eventually in Dagahaley camp.
The three camps that make up Dadaab –Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera- were originally designed to house 90,000 people following the civil war in Somalia in 1992. Today around 400,000 displaced people live here. Dadaab has become the largest refugee complex in the world, and is still growing.
Ibdios's family left Dinsor, situated in the Lower Juba region of war-torn Somalia, because of hunger and fear. Their story is no different from that of the 40,000 refugees that have arrived since the beginning of June.
It took Ibdio and her family 15 days to reach Dadaab and the trip was tough and dangerous. "We left (Somalia) with hope. Hope is what gave us the strength to continue… but now that we are here we don't know what to do. There is nothing for us," says the young mother.
Her husband abandoned his family one week before they decided to leave. He ran away with the last two cows alive. "He lost his mind because of the drought that was killing all our animals," Ibdio believes.
Ibdio, along with her mother and her three children, traveled the first 120 kilometers by car. When that broke down, they continued on foot for five days. On the way she witnessed families that buried their children or their parents, and felt the constant fear of losing one of her own.
The family survives today thanks to food provided by aid agencies, food that must last them for three weeks. "We still struggle with what was given to us. Some yellow maize, oil and wheat flour. But it is almost finished. The nights are frightening," she continued. "We are exposed to bad people who walk around at night and to wild animals."
Ibdio’s family is just one of many that UNICEF is striving to assist, not only in Dadaab but across the Horn of Africa.
UNICEF has increased its supplies of ready-to-use therapeutic food to hospitals and nutrition centers in the Dadaab camps and surrounding host communities, helping treat the many children who arrive and are suffering from acute malnutrition.
To improve access to safe water along the refugee routes, UNICEF is also supporting the delivery of drinking water by trucks. Some 20,000 liters of water have been distributed to the refugees so far. This has enabled families to access water at regular intervals and has improved the situation for host communities settled around water distribution points.
In the camps, UNICEF is working with other organizations to distribute jerry cans and undertake hygiene promotion and provision of soap, all designed to reduce the ever-present threat of disease outbreaks. Some 70,000 children have also been reached so far with measles and polio vaccinations.
This is not an overnight crisis. It requires immediate relief as well as a long-term vision. UNICEF is planning to construct 146 new learning centers and classrooms in the camps to accommodate newly-arrived refugees and alleviate congestion in pre-existing schools. These centers will be situated in camp outskirts where many newly-arrived refugees live.
And to ensure that those arriving after their frightening and arduous journey know what services are available, UNICEF is also working with other agencies in Dadaab to ensure that communication networks are developed to inform refugees and host communities of what is available in areas such as education, health and social protection.
This combination of services and support is just part of a major operation that tries to lift the clouds on the horizon of the more than 2 million children affected by the drought across the Horn of Africa. With each life saved, and every child protected, some of the hope that mothers like Ibdio so desperately seek may start to return.