Friday, 8 July 2011

The photo shows a man waiting at a Kenyan refugee camp for assistance while supporting his hungry children. The children are alive, at least for now, but the death toll mounts daily.

Prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa has forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis - already beleaguered by sectarian conflict inside their country - to leave home in search of food. After securing rides on trucks and in cars, or after walking hundreds of kilometres on foot, the displaced people arrive at camps in Ethiopia and Kenya where administrators are stretched to allocate resources, finding it difficult sometimes to process the refugees, who may receive little at first in the way of relief. The statistics are alarming.

Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya, near the Somali border, now contains over 380,000 people and it was designed to accommodate 90,000. A UN spokesperson told America's CBS News that there were more deaths among arriving Somali children in the first quarter of 2011 than in all of 2010. Another UN worker said 54,000 people fled Somalia in June alone and 30,000 of them went to Dadaab, according to an AFP story, with 1,400 refugees arriving there daily. Voice of America says 61,000 people have come to Dadaab this year.

“When I was first there, in 1992, there were about 40,000 refugees in the transit camp,” said Kevin McCourt, CEO of CARE Canada. “By 1994 it had reached capacity. Now there are close to 400,000 people.”

The European Commission has sent $7 million to Dadaab in an effort to ease the crisis but there seems to be little in the short term that the developed world can do for the people affected by drought in Somalia unless humanitarian intake quotas set by elected governments are lifted. In the case of Somalia we have known for some time about the numbers of displaced persons. Sectarian conflict that is present in that country is also a factor determining the volume of people on the move. And it's not just in the Horn of Africa that numbers of displaced people have gone up in recent years. Pakistan, for example, hosts 1.9 million refugees or asylum-seekers inside its borders because it is located next door to Afghanistan, where the decade-long American war has displaced vast numbers of people.

What is true to say is that the 21,000 or so people arriving by boat on Australian shores in the past decade or so represents but a tiny fraction of the total number of displaced persons globally fleeing drought or armed conflict. The Toronto Star's Olivia Ward says that in 2010 "some 43.7 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution". With the current Horn of Africa crisis added to the inhuman mix, the number of displaced persons can only go one way.

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