DADAAB, Kenya - The head of the UN refugee agency said yesterday that drought-ridden Somalia is the “worst humanitarian disaster’’ in the world after meeting with refugees who endured unspeakable hardship to reach the world’s largest refugee camp.
The Kenyan camp, Dadaab, is overflowing with tens of thousands of refugees forced into it by the parched landscape in the region where Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya meet. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people need humanitarian aid. The UN Children’s Fund estimates that more than 2 million children are malnourished and in need of lifesaving action.
Antonio Guterres, the head of UNHCR who visited Dadaab yesterday, appealed to the world to supply the “massive support’’ needed by thousands of refugees showing up at this camp every week. More than 380,000 refugees live there. In Dadaab, Guterres spoke with a Somali mother who lost three of her children during a 35-day walk to reach the camp. Guterres said Dadaab holds “the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.’’
“I became a bit insane after I lost them,’’ said the mother, Muslima Aden. “I lost them in different times on my way.’’
Guterres is on a tour of the region to highlight the dire need. On Thursday he was in the Ethiopian camp of Dollo Ado, a camp that is also overflowing.
“The mortality rates we are witnessing are three times the level of emergency ceilings,’’ he said. “The level of malnutrition of the children coming in is 50 percent. That is enough to explain why a very high level of mortality is inevitable,’’ he said.
Dr. Dejene Kebede, a health officer for UNHCR, said there were 58 deaths in camps in one week in June. Up to 2,000 Somali refugees are crossing into Ethiopia every day, UNHCR said.