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NAIROBI — Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees will face a humanitarian emergency this year, unless urgent steps are taken to deal with a serious public health crisis unfolding in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, international agency Oxfam warned in a new report issued today.
The Kenyan government, international donors, and aid agencies must all immediately take action to address the crisis, Oxfam said.
Dadaab is one of the world's largest concentrations of refugees. Its population now stands at more than 250,000—almost three times its intended size. Up to 100,000 more people are likely to arrive by the end of this year as Somalis continue to flee violence and seek refuge in Kenya.
A new Oxfam assessment of the humanitarian situation in the camp has uncovered a serious public health crisis caused by a lack of basic services, severe overcrowding and a chronic lack of funding. More than 20 cases of cholera have been confirmed. Kenya recently closed its border with Somalia, yet refugees continue to arrive daily and the border closure is actually exacerbating the crisis, the report found.
"Conditions in Dadaab are dire and need immediate attention. People are not getting the aid they are entitled to," said Crosland-Taylor. "Half of the people in the camp do not have access to enough water. Women and children—who make up over half Dadaab's population—very rarely have access to adequate latrines."
Oxfam's report recommended that the Kenyan government re-open the Kenya-Somalia border, and provide additional land near to Dadaab for a new site to ease the overcrowding. The report also recommended that international donor governments urgently respond to UNHCR's appeals for more funding to deal with the crisis, that UN and aid agencies ensure that recent increased efforts to address the crisis are sustained, and that local Kenyan communities near Dadaab are not neglected.
The Kenyan government's decision to close the border has not stopped refugees coming, but it has made conditions much worse for them and their Kenyan neighbors, and has added to health risks in the camp. Reception centers on the border run by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) used to give health checks to new refugees. However, as a result of the border closure, these centers were closed down, meaning new arrivals no longer receive the health checks before reaching the camp. In such overcrowded conditions, even a single case of cholera can spread rapidly.
"Until there is a lasting peace in Somalia, many more people will continue to flee. The Kenyan government must address this humanitarian crisis, rather than ignoring it. An open but managed border will allow Kenya to meet its legitimate security concerns, but also allow refugees to receive the assistance to which they are entitled under international law," Crosland-Taylor said.
The situation in Dadaab has led to increased tensions between Somali refugees and the local Kenyan community, particularly over rights to land and resources such as water and trees.
"Dadaab is in a very poor region and the needs of the local communities must not be forgotten," explained Crosland-Taylor. "More funds are needed for aid agencies to help local people as well as refugees. Scarce natural resources have to be shared by everyone, and projects are needed to explore alternative technologies and ways of ensuring that those resources are managed in an equitable and sustainable way."