Already the largest in the world with more than 360,000 people, the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya continues to swell with Somalis fleeing famine. Across East Africa, especially in northern Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and south central Somalia, a drought and food crisis is affecting 12 million people.
Following are some of the impressions of Oxfam’s JJ Singano who is helping to provide water and sanitation services in Dadaab—and worrying about what the future will hold for people seeking safety there.
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.
People are so happy when they arrive, but even here the situation is desperate. As the numbers increase, the overcrowding gets worse. Families make shelters from anything they can find – twigs from bushes, blankets or bits of tarpaulin.
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.
Our team’s work involves building communal toilets, and drilling boreholes [deep wells] and installing pipes and tap-stands to supply clean water to the camps. Some of the wells are up to 656 feet deep. If you add all the water pipes up the system stretches for 21 miles.
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.
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.