Hongersnood Hoorn van Afrika blog Adam Poulter
As the plane took off from Canberra yesterday I looked down on the dry hills below. My thoughts turned to the dusty plains of Eastern Kenya where CARE is working in the world’s biggest refugee camp, Dadaab. We’ve been working there for twenty years leading the provision of water, food and education. While we and other agencies working in the camps are able to provide assistance to the more than 414,000 [as of Aug. 22] refugees now there, the problem is that the numbers just keep growing. I’ll arrive there on Sunday to work with the team on increasing our capacity to deal with the projected increase to over 500,000 refugees by Christmas.
Yesterday I spoke with Jason Snuggs, CARE Australia’s global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Adviser who has been working with the team in Dadaab to increase water supply and storage for the new people arriving since early July. He told me how they’ve managed to increase water supply for people on the edges of the three main camps. We are now providing people with up to 12 litres of water each per day. The target is to exceed 15 litres, which we have been able to provide to long-term refugees. Jason is confident we can reach this target in the coming weeks by redrilling bore holes, improving distribution lines and storage capacity for water.
Just as important is public hygiene and we are working with animators from the local community to spread simple hygiene messages like the need to use soap and to wash hands before eating. By doing this we can limit outbreaks of diarrhoea and other infectious diseases which can kill the malnourished, especially young children.
We leave at 6am sharp. I will be accompanied by CARE’s Regional Coordinator, and two global education experts. The road takes a bumpy six hours, but this is a trifle compared to the journeys of several weeks the new refugees arriving have made.
Blog 2: Dadaab Bound
It’s 6.30am on a crisp Nairobi morning. The dawn chorus has just finished and I am standing in the CARE Kenya compound. Abdi, our driver, has just arrived with a broad smile and wearing a bright cap typical for Somalis. I am joined by Alain Lapierre, Director of Emergencies for CARE Canada who has been overseeing the expansion of our activities in the region this past month.
He says the situation in Dadaab is of great concern. People are still arriving in a terrible state. Although the numbers arriving have reduced slightly in the past few days, he believes this is only temporary. CARE is scaling up to meet the needs of an increasing number of refugees. This includes recruiting more national staff and for long-term planning with existing staff, such as Jason Snuggs, CARE Australia’s global WASH Adviser, working at the strategic level to develop plans to cope with the projected influx of people.
As we reach a rendezvous point, three CARE Kenya staff who work in Dadaab join us. They are highly skilled Kenyans working in the construction team. One of them, Oumari, tells me that he has been working for nine months in the searing heat of Dadaab, providing administrative support to the construction team who build and maintain boreholes, latrines and five schools. I ask him how he feels about working in Dadaab. He replies, ”I feel really motivated. We are giving hope to people who had lost hope in life.”
We are now joined by another CARE vehicle packed with field staff and provisions for the camp. There are also vehicles with staff from UNHCR and other NGOs. It’s 6.45am and time to hit the road!
Blog 3: Reporting from Dadaab Camp: 500,000 likely to arrive by the end of the year
Today, I spoke to a young woman who had walked for twenty days with her two children. They left their home due to the drought which has dried up all drinking water sources.
She was sitting in a makeshift tent made from rough branches and covered in bits of cardboard and scraps of cloth. She and the other new arrivals have taken refuge outside the established camps.
The influx of new arrivals has put great pressure on services in the camps, not least on the water supply. CARE has been providing water to the camps for over twenty years, but with the recent influx we have been really stretched.
Jason Snuggs, CARE Australia’s Water and Sanitation Adviser, has been working with the local team to ramp up water supply. He says, ‘We have been setting up new water tanks and tapstands so that people can easily access the water that we truck in.’
We are also supplying 19 litres of water per day to people as they arrive in Daghaley camp. We are redrilling seven boreholes so they produce more water, increasing storage capacity, and extending the piped water system out from the main camps to the influx areas next to them. This reduces the need for expensive trucking and ensuring we can meet the needs of the 30,000 new arrivals in this camp.
The ongoing drought and conflict in Somalia – where famine has been declared in several districts in the south – means the influx of refugees will probably continue for several months. CARE estimates that over 500,000 people will be in the camps by Christmas. Clearly this is a big challenge. Jason says, “We are increasing water provision in the influx areas and water in the camps to above UNHCR global standards of 20 litres per person a day, and we will keep going until we are sure we can meet the needs of further new arrivals.”
I ask him what the biggest challenge is and there’s no pause in his reply: “Funding is the biggest challenge.” It’s also a challenge to get skilled water and sanitation professionals to work in Dadaab as conditions are hard, even for the staff working there.
Blog 4:Reducing the impact of the drought in Kenya
The green trees, cool mountain climate and well-stocked shopping malls of Nairobi are in sharp contrast to the camps in dusty Dadaab. The warm smiles and healthy faces of the Kenyans I meet are very different from the haggard faces of the new arrivals from Somalia I saw lining up for food just a couple of days ago.
Many Kenyans are also suffering in the terrible drought sweeping across the north and east of the country. Today I met with CARE Kenya senior staff who explained how CARE is working to improve the situation in Kenya by investing in communal management of water and pasture. They told me that most of the people affected by the drought are pastoralists who live and move with their herds. In the drought, lack of water and pasture has seen herds decimated and no rain is in sight until September.
In the north-east of the country CARE is supporting people to renew communal management of grazing lands and water pans. Where there was some local rain in April, the water pans still have water and there is still some pasture, but even they are badly off. That’s why CARE is supporting off-take of weak livestock at a reasonable price and the vaccination of stronger animals so they can withstand the drought. This should help herds to recover and people to bounce back if the rains come.
Stephen Gwynne-Vaughan, CARE’s Country Director in Kenya, visited Gafo in late July and saw the difference these investments have made. Water pans that were rehabilitated last year with community labour through CARE’s support still have water. What’s even more encouraging is that the community have managed them well, collecting small fees from users, which have allowed them to clear out the silt this year. If they continue maintenance, these should last for twenty years.
We have also supported district-level planning so that communities and the local government know when to take emergency measures such as de-stocking of livestock. Pastoralists move across the border with Ethiopia, so CARE has worked on both sides to bring communities together so they can make agreements that allow access to pasture for the animals when times are hard.
Gary McGurk, Assistant Country Director of CARE Kenya, explained why CARE will only consider water trucking and food aid in the most dire situations. “Water trucking is expensive and encourages people to stay in places that cannot sustain them rather than moving on with their herds.” By investing in community management of water and pasture, we can reduce pastoralists facing a crisis and needing expensive food hand-outs or water trucking.
But support for such interventions is hard to get. Even though studies show that a dollar invested in preparedness will save on average seven spent on crisis response like food aid, we find it hard to gain funding. With the situation so bad, we now also need to help the many who are in crisis. Tomorrow I will travel to Ethiopia to see how we are doing that there.
As a humanitarian worker for the past sixteen years I have seen some pretty shocking scenes. Before this trip to East Africa, I was particularly not looking forward to witnessing suffering children. However, when I saw the dedication and commitment of the CARE staff working on our response in very difficult surroundings, it made me feel proud to work for CARE.
Helping pastoralists in Borena
In Borena, Ethiopia, CARE is working with people to reduce cattle herd sizes during droughts to prevent over grazing of the pasture, and to provide the community with an income from their weakened cattle before disease robs them completely of their value.
People in Borena are well known for their strong social bonds. They are also well known for feeding their children first, a practice which is key to ensuring survival of the next generation in this toughest of times. This, along with the monitoring from CARE and the local government, ensures the program reaches those who need it most. But our program is only reaching five per cent of people living in the targeted districts – further funding is desperately needed to extend this highly impactful and timely program.
A health centre in Miyo district
Distances in Miyo district are huge and mothers can travel for a long time to bring their children to the health centre for assistance. The most seriously malnourished children receive help here, accompanied by their mothers.
First they are checked for diseases like diarrhoea and given treatment. Then they start a careful course of therapeutic food, starting with low-strength milk powder. It normally takes four to five days for their weight to stabilise. Then they progress to a more nutritious formula that helps them regain weight fast. Finally, they can be discharged with two month’s ration of oil and corn soya blend to take home.
Making sustainable change in people’s lives
Along with responding to the current situation, we also have to look at what causes the current situation and how we can prevent it from happening again. We need to understand the underlying causes of poverty and why drought keeps coming, and why children and mothers are severely affected. For example, we have linked many large households in East and West Hararghe to the long-term family-planning project in the area, as large family sizes can contribute to malnutrition.
With CARE Ethiopia already meeting the needs of over 406,000 [as of Aug. 22] people and plans to reach up to a million in the next three months, I am confident CARE is playing its part in reaching the most vulnerable during this drought, the worst in a generation. It’s our job to make things better in a tough situation and that is something I feel positive about. We need help from the Australian public so that we can extend our programs and benefit more people who are suffering from this devastating drought with long-term solutions.