In the humanitarian world, there are the disasters you see coming, and the ones you don’t.We didn’t foresee the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti … the devastating floods in Pakistan… the earthquake and tsunami in Japan… or the conflicts sweeping the Arab world.But the current drought and famine in East Africa? We saw that coming. The only question was how bad would it be?
The answer: very bad and getting worse.This crisis has now affected a staggering 12.4 million people – it has killed tens of thousands, and put 400,000 children at risk of starvation. Think about those numbers. Roll them around in your head.We saw this emergency unfolding 9 months ago when the rains began to fail, the harvests were poor, and food and fuel prices shot up. Families already facing scarce food resources suddenly had to make do with much less. Throw in more than 20 years of violent conflict in Somalia and you have approximately a million refugees crossing the borders into Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, seeking some sort of escape.Make no mistake, this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.But that’s the macro.Here’s the micro: a nine-month pregnant Somali woman, her two-year-old son, her husband, and his brother, journey many treacherous miles by foot across arid, forbidding desert to the Ethiopia border. There they wait to be processed. They wait outside for days in 100-degree heat and high winds that whip sand across their faces. Eventually they are bused to a refugee camp about 20 miles north, inside Ethiopia, where they are given a tent and a bit of food.They come to International Medical Corps’ nutrition center in the camp, by which time the mother is so weak from severe malnutrition that she can barely keep her eyes open or speak. She cannot hold her own son in her rail-thin arms, and childbirth may very likely kill her. Her husband has been too ill to come to the center. Her brother-in-law holds her child for her, but he too is so weak that when he stands his legs and arms shake from the strain and he is forced to sit down again. The child cradled in his arms is so severely malnourished that he is non-responsive, not uttering a sound.
People should not be suffering like this. I keep saying the same phrase over and over in my head: “This is not right.”Sadly, a crisis such as this has struck the region before: the famine in Ethiopia in 1984, famine and civil war in Somalia in 1991. These are horrific cycles that plague East Africa. While the government and communities have made great strides in mitigating the impact of these cycles, this year has seen a perfect storm of factors that are especially tough to combat.I was in Ethiopia during the “global food crisis” in 2008, and witnessed a tremendous amount of starvation, pain and suffering. And yet, that crisis was not nearly as severe as what’s happening today. It did not constitute what the humanitarian community defines as “famine” – the malnutrition and mortality rates were not at the levels they are now. When 1 in 1,000 people dies of malnutrition, that is considered a humanitarian emergency; right now, in the refugee camps where International Medical Corps and other NGOs are working, the mortality rates have hovered around 14 percent. Rates of severe malnutrition have been as high as 45 percent.In the face of these grim statistics, what are our solutions?I ask my colleague, Daniel, who runs our nutrition programs in the camps. A native of eastern Ethiopia, he has seen famine unfold here before. As he meets with new arrivals at the nutrition center, he is compassionate, but no-nonsense. One teenaged mother has brought in her 3-year-old severely malnourished son. His chest and ribcage protrude sharply over his distended belly, his limbs are twigs, he lets out a persistent, desperate hunger-wail. Daniel explains to the child’s mother that if he is not admitted to a stabilization center he will not survive - that milk is not enough, he needs therapeutic feedings.As Daniel reflects on the great suffering he has witnessed recently and in years past, he also vividly remembers the victories. He recalls when he first began doing nutrition work in the early ‘90s, and himself was learning how to care for people and pass on skills. One woman in particular he remembers brought in two malnourished children for treatment – along with a third who she said was disabled, his arms and legs completely rigid and unmovable. All three children underwent therapeutic feedings. Suddenly one day, the disabled child straightened his arms and legs, and stood up. Daniel realized this child was not disabled; he was severely malnourished and needed proper nutrients to reverse the paralysis in his limbs. Witnessing and learning from this recovery proved a seminal moment for him – and to this day provides him with the hope that education can and will save lives.Fighting back tears, Daniel says simply: “That was a day when I felt really good about my work. I will never forget it. Never.”
Actress and International Medical Corps Global Ambassador Sienna Miller returned this week from visiting International Medical Corps’ nutrition programs in the Dolo Ado camps in eastern Ethiopia, an area largely inaccessible by media. More than 120,000 Somalis - 30 percent of whom are malnourished - are seeking refuge here from the crippling effects of drought, famine, and conflict. With six regions of Somalia now facing famine, Miller is calling for greater attention to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today where more than 12.4 million people throughout East Africa require relief.
“Without immediate humanitarian intervention, more than 390,000 children are at risk of starvation,” said Miller. “International Medical Corps is on the ground providing emergency nutrition services and health care to vulnerable populations in Ethiopia as well as in Kenya and Somalia, but they will need ongoing support to meet the massive needs, which are only expected to expand in the coming months. Ongoing support will literally make the difference between life and death for thousands of children in Ethiopia, and throughout the region.”
Having worked since 1991 in Somalia, International Medical Corps is reaching affected populations with nutrition and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs to provide a multi-faceted approach to the crisis. In Sool and Sanaag regions, the organization, with support from UNICEF, screened 11,500 children and admitted 679 children in outpatient therapeutic program sites for advanced nutrition care. Teams also distributed micro-nutrient supplements for 4,850 pregnant and lactating mothers. In addition, trainings were conducted for Ministry of Health staff on community mobilization, nutrition screening, vaccination, and referrals.
At the Dolo Ado camps in Ethiopia, International Medical Corps, in partnership with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), is providing supplementary feeding services for malnourished people, including the provision of nutrient-dense therapeutic foods. To date, approximately 5,000 children and pregnant and lactating women have undergone nutritional screening and referred to the appropriate level of therapeutic care. Teams also constructed 136 latrines and washrooms with 200 more planned and launched a hygiene campaign to thwart the spread of communicable disease in the overcrowded camps.
At Kambioos refugee camp in Kenya, a part of the Dadaab Complex which is today the largest refugee camp in the world, International Medical Corps is working in partnership with AmeriCares to implement a field hospital with nutrition services and a maternity center. In addition, in Samburu, Isiolo, Tana River and Laikipia districts in Kenya, International Medical Corps has been working in partnership with UNICEF to deliver high-impact nutrition interventions in existing health facilities and at the community level. The organization is scaling up existing programs to support 154 health facilities and planning expansion of feeding points within these drought affected areas.
For more detailed information about International Medical Corps’ drought and famine response throughout East Africa, please visit: http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/page.aspx?pid=1348
The German humanitarian aid agency, Luftfahrt ohne Grenzen, or Wings of Help, is coordinating the largest airlift of humanitarian relief supplies from Germany to the Horn of Africa, where 12.4 million people are in need of emergency assistance.
The supplies, which include approximately 90 tons of vital medicines, tents, and nutrient-dense foods, will be transported to Kenya on a cargo flight donated by Lufthansa Airlines, and will be distributed in partnership with International Medical Corps and its teams on the ground in Kenya and Somalia. “International Medical Corps is deeply grateful to Luftfahrt ohne Grenzen, Lufthansa, International Relief Teams, Dr. Gerhard Gensthaler, Dr. Marcus Schmitt, Mr. Christian Poppe, and all those who came together to make this lifesaving shipment of supplies possible,” says Nancy A. Aossey, President & CEO of International Medical Corps. “This timely donation will allow us to restore the health and well-being of thousands of children, and relieve the suffering of families impacted by this devastating drought and famine.”The supplies will first be distributed in the drought affected areas in the Eastern province of Kenya (in Isiolo); in the Rift Valley (Samburu and Laikipia); and Coast Province (Tana river and Tana Delta). The airlift to the Horn of Africa is the latest in a long partnership between Luftfahrt ohne Grenzen and International Medical Corps in responding to humanitarian crises across the globe, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2010 Pakistan floods, and 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Thousands of Somali people are fleeing their country for survival and in hope of a better life for their children and themselves. They arrive with very little except for the clothes they are wearing, some extra pieces of fabric and, if they are lucky, jerry cans. These ‘jerry cans’ are simply old, plastic oil containers.
During their journeys, which for some take up to two months by foot, there are very few, if any remaining water sources on their path suitable for drinking due to the drought in East Africa. Jerry cans are the only way to carry this basic necessity with them.
By the time they reach the refugee camps, these water containers are often filled with green algae and offer a breeding place for many types of diseases.
In response, International Medical Corps ran a week-long “Jerry Can Hygiene Campaign” in Kobe Refugee Camp from August 1-5, to help families clean their water containers. Kobe is one of four camps set up to serve the 118,000 and counting refugees streaming to the Dolo Ado area of Ethiopia where we have been working in partnership with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to provide nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and gender-based violence services.
Through the use of sifted river sand - which can easily be found in the local area - and a simple chlorine solution, 1,700 jerry cans were cleaned during this campaign to ensure people do not continue to use containers that are unsafe for storing drinking water. Many families were able to take part in the campaign and learn from volunteers from their own community who were trained by International Medical Corps on how to keep their drinking water safe.
International Medical Corps is also planning to distribute hygiene kits including basic necessities like soap and has started constructing latrines and washrooms to ensure safe sanitation in the camps.
For more than 30 days, Aneb Mohamed, a 32-year-old mother of seven, traveled from the Gedo area in Somalia, across the border into Ethiopia, all in hope of finding safety and a better future for herself and her children. Back in Somalia, Aneb had made a living for her family by running a small shop selling general goods. In the midst of the crisis, her house and shop were burned down, and with the failing rains and no food, she and her family began the long trek out of Somalia. By the time they reached the Dolo Ado refugee camps in Ethiopia, one of her children had died and her youngest son was very ill. When Aneb and her family were placed in the newly opened Kobe Refugee camp, she took him to International Medical Corps’ nutrition program, where our staff immediately began giving him nutritional supplements. “After only one week, he is looking healthy again,” said Aneb. “He is smiling and happy. This is all thanks to International Medical Corps! I don’t have to worry about his food anymore.”
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