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A malnutrition crisis grips eastern Kenya
September 21, 2009
By The IRC
Beza Tesfaye, an intern with the Princeton University in Africa program, is working for the International Rescue Committee in Kenya where malnutrition and a severe lack of food is threatening refugees and Kenyans alike.
Nothing quite prepared me for my first encounter with a severely malnourished child. On a recent visit to the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya, an IRC doctor showed me into the Hagadera hospital, where the IRC treats malnourished children.
Aid agencies and the Kenyan government are doing their best, but the influx of refugees into Dadaab is overwhelming. Around 5,000 refugees arrive every month. Most are fleeing violence and drought in Somalia. Many of new arrivals are exhausted and sick after their journey, which is particularly hard on young children. Once in the camp, refugees face a lack of water and sanitation and the threat of disease. The good news is that the IRC and other aid organizations have been able to reduce the rate of severe acute malnutrition in all three of Dadaab’s camps. Still, the anemia rate is startlingly high—more than 70 percent—clearly demonstrating the need for increased assistance to Dadaab’s young population.
Malnutrition is not limited to refugees. In October 2008, the Kenyan government declared a national food emergency. Indeed, while on a drive through Fafi District, where the Dadaab camp is located, it becomes clear that the lack of food is a major problem in the region. Community leaders say that their wells are dry and that prized livestock are dying from starvation. Meanwhile, they complain about sky high prices for food staples like maize. It is hoped that the fall rains will bring some relief. But the situation is dire and it is critical that international donors, aid agencies and the Kenyan government search for effective ways to address the crisis.