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Somalis Crowd Kenya Camps in Search of Food

By Michael Hill
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Catholic Relief Services will get aid to many of the tens of thousands of famished Somalis who are pouring across the border into Kenya. Refugee camps near the town of Dabaab are overflowing with people desperately searching for food during the drought-led food crisis that is plaguing East Africa.

The United Nations officially declared a famine in parts of Somalia, the first such declaration in decades. Working through partners, CRS is preparing kits to help the new arrivals stay clean and sheltered. Other CRS teams are looking into the water, shelter and sanitation needs of Kenyan communities surrounding the camps, which are reeling from drought and the daily influx of refugees.

Thousands of refugees are flooding into Dadaab every week.

Six-month-old Somali refugee at one of several camps in Dadaab, Kenya. Thousands of refugees are flooding into Dadaab every week. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

In Ethiopia, a CRS-led coalition of humanitarian groups is more than doubling the size of its feeding program. It is now reaching more than 1 million people affected by the emergency.

Sean Callahan, CRS' executive vice president of overseas operations, visited the Dadaab camps and was particularly struck by the number of women and children among the 1,300 people who are arriving each day.

"The toll of the drought and violence in Somalia is particularly devastating for women and children," he says, noting the difficulties of the long journey to get to Kenya.

CRS and local partners have been able to provide some aid to those into the stricken areas of Somalia. But for the many families unable to access aid in that country, survival means walking across a harsh desert to camps like the one in Dadaab.

For decades, CRS has actively worked in Kenya and Ethiopia through programs that address agricultural and water needs. Reports from the field indicate that CRS' efforts have helped ease the pain of drought in many communities.

But the severity of the drought coupled with rising food prices are overwhelming the ability of millions of people in East Africa to cope. More than 11 million people across the Horn of Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance.

"Rains last fall failed completely," says CRS Africa Team Leader Brian Gleeson. "And spring rains earlier this year were erratic and weak. As a result, farmers have experienced horrible harvests and pastoralists are seeing their livestock dying off.

"This drought comes as prices for staple foods are increasing—in some cases, more than doubling in the past year," Gleeson says.

Many already spend a huge percentage of their income on food. A rise in prices is pushing them over the edge.

Gleeson says the crisis will likely worsen before it eases with the October harvest.

"Many areas had very poor spring rains, so the harvest will not be enough," he says. "And if the fall rains are not strong—or fail again—then this crisis is going to get much, much worse."

Michael Hill is senior communications manager at CRS headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

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