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Agriculture and Rural Development

Eid in a dry season

Greg Toulmin's picture

I am standing in a camp near Dollo Ado, in southern Ethiopia near the border with Somalia. The camp is an open site on hard rocky land: the only vegetation is grey, thorny scrub. An endless wind is swirling around me, picking up the light soil under foot and coating everyone and everything with a thin film of orange. Dust devils spin lazily in the relentless hot sun, making it hard to see the plastic sheeting that is the only covering for the ‘huts’ in which 10,000 people are living. Welcome to Haloweyn, the newest refugee camp for the drought-triggered exodus from Somalia. Today is Eid-ul-Fitr, but nobody is celebrating here.

Haloweyn Camp, Ethiopia's border with Somalia. Photo: Robert S. Chase, World BankWe have stopped to talk to people and understand the challenges they face, but it is hard work. Many of them have scarves wrapped around their faces to protect themselves from the wind, very few of us speak any Somali, and when we do communicate they look uncertain and dazed, as well they may. This camp is only three weeks old—less than a month ago all these people were wandering through this extraordinarily arid landscape, trying to pick their way past the lines of conflict, almost all malnourished and often sick too. That those we meet seemed to have recovered their physical health already is fairly miraculous. Their reluctance to relive their experiences seems wholly understandable.

Ever on the brink of disaster

Fred Owegi's picture

Farmers guide their livestock in the arid region of Mandera, Kenya

Earlier this month, I participated in a four-day mission to Mandera, a county in northeastern Kenya, some 640 km from Nairobi on the Somali border. The European Commission’s Humanitarian Agency (ECHO) arranged the mission to assess progress of various community-managed drought risk reduction initiatives.

We visited several projects being implemented across Mandera’s central, northern and eastern districts, an area which is home to more than a million people, according to the last census in 2009. The area is classified as arid and receives on average 250 mm of rainfall in a good year. But for the last several months, not a single drop of rain has fallen and all water reserves have been depleted. Famine could be imminent in Mandera and its neighboring counties if policies are not put in place to prevent it.

Being my first visit to Mandera the mission was eye-opening but also disquieting, coming as it did in the midst of what is now accepted as “the most severe drought in the Horn of Africa in the last 60 years”.

Fleeing Famine—The View from Inside a Refugee Camp

Johannes Zutt's picture

Newly arrived Somali refugees at a Dadaab reception center

I recently visited Dadaab, Kenya’s third-largest and fastest-growing city, having grown from 250,000 residents a few years ago to more than 400,000 today.

Dadaab is not an ordinary Kenyan city. Most of its residents are not Kenyans, but Somalis, living in a collection of refugee camps crowding the small Kenyan town that existed 20 years ago.

The camps’ earliest residents sought refuge from the fighting that has made Somalia a failed state. The 1,000+ refugees that are now arriving every day are seeking refuge from climate change, the region’s worst drought in 60 years, and the famine that it brings.

I met a group of refugees at a reception center at Dagahaley camp. They had left everything in Somalia and walked hundreds of kilometers across a dry and unforgiving landscape in a desperate gamble to find food, water and refuge in Kenya. The very young and the very old were in terrible condition. Some had already been in Dadaab for a week, living off the kindness of others, too tired to sort out their status. Now they waited patiently to be registered and to receive their initial food ration.

Looking around the camp, I could see their likely future. Refugees who had arrived earlier were cooking, sitting, or talking around water points, or in the low white UNHCR tents that were now “home”. Still earlier arrivals, also squatting outside the formal camps, were building makeshift shelters, digging pit latrines, collecting firewood, or planting dry branches to fence their meager possessions. The earliest arrivals were the most settled—living in tin-roofed houses and fenced compounds that were formally allotted, not far from the main street of kiosks, shops, and community and administration buildings that gave each camp the look of a small town.

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