Cholera fears join famine in 'overrun' refugee camp
Aid agencies struggling with a famine crisis in Somalia are being forced to deal with another growing problem: a marked increase in cholera amongst refugees in recent weeks.
A devastating drought has caused widespread famine across areas of Kenya and Ethiopia, but has hit southern Somalia the hardest – forcing some 400,000 people to flood the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya over the past week.
Some 3.7 million Somalis are affected by the famine, with malnutrition rates in southern Somalia now the highest in the world. The circumstances have led to sweeping outbreaks of cholera.
"These are desperate, desperate people and the place is overrun," co-host Seamus O'Regan told CTV Canada AM from the Dadaab refugee camp on Friday.
O'Regan said the cholera epidemic has been a growing concern over the past couple of weeks, forcing aid agencies to split their focus between that and the famine. Sanitation has become a key concern.
"There are a lot of agrarian people, rural people who are used to the farms and, to be blunt, used to defecating outdoors with neighbours five or ten kilometres away. You add that sort of behavior to the concentration of some 408,000 people and what you end up with is a deadly epidemic of cholera."
O'Regan reported that one out of 10 people who get cholera end up dying by the end of the day.
Dadaab is the world's largest refugee camp and covers a total area of 50 square kilometres near the border between Kenya and Somalia.
The Dadaab area is now home to approximately 400,000 Somali refugees, many of whom walked 100 kilometres to reach the camp.
Some 1,200 new refugees arrive each day, many of them women and young children with ribs left exposed from extreme hunger.
The United Nations says that thousands have already died in the famine, many of them young children.
The federal government has earmarked $50 million to help with famine relief and said earlier this week that Canadians had donated more than $20 million to famine relief in East Africa. The government has promised to match all donations made until Sept. 16.
More than $8.5 million of the funds has been delivered to the relief efforts so far through the aid groups CARE Canada, Oxfam and Plan Canada.
O'Regan said there are signs the funding is doing good at the Dadaab camp, although it is still a struggle to provide assistance to the some 400,000 refugees.
"Things are getting better in terms of global attention and aid agencies are starting to get those supplies. The generosity of so many Canadians and people around the world including Kenyans… that money is reaching the ground," O'Regan said.
"A lot of these people were self-sustaining farmers. They can't fight a drought. It has been said before: Droughts are natural but famines are man-made."
Corruption is rife in Somalia, controlled by al Qaeda-linked militants long before the famine began.