As Humanitarian Communications Officer, much of 2011 for me was spent focusing on the devastating food crisis that affected East Africa.
East Africa one year on
Over a year later, I am visiting the refugee camps in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia that received a massive influx of Somalis fleeing drought and conflict in their home country. Save the Children has been saving lives throughout with emergency nutrition programmes.
At the onset of the crisis in 2011, nearly half of the newly arrived refugees in the camps were malnourished and nearly a quarter severely so. Over the past year, thanks in part to Save the Children’s nutrition programmes, the malnutrition rates have reduced dramatically.
In Bokolmayo camp, where Save the Children continues to run nutrition programmes to address the underlying causes of malnutrition, the rate of moderate acute malnutrition has decreased from 22% to 10%, and the rate of severe acute malnutrition has decreased from 11% to 1%.
A new arrival
As always, it’s the individual stories that help bring these numbers to life. Whilst in Bokolmayo I met 2-year-old Deqo and her grandmother Owliya. Deqo arrived in the camp just a month ago along with her two older brothers and uncle after their mother tragically passed away in Somalia.
Owliya came to the Save the Children nutrition centre, which gives specially formulated food to children under five and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. When children start the programme, they are also screened for malnutrition and illnesses.
Deqo was found to be severely malnourished – Owliya told me, “When the children arrived they were very weak so I brought them here for the food and medication. When I brought Deqo she was critically sick and weak. She used to cry all the time. But then she received food and medication from here and now she is healthy.”
As well as additional food being given when needed, Save the Children provides routine medication, including antibiotics, vitamin A and folic acid to help treat the underlying causes of malnutrition, such as internal parasites and pneumonia. In this way, we can continue to help reduce the number of children falling victim to hunger.
As always, it was inspiring to meet our teams working tirelessly to respond to the ongoing needs of children and their families in the camps. That day, their resilience was tested once moreas our day trip to Bokolmayo turned into an overnight adventure.
A raging torrent
After driving an hour back towards Dollo Ado town we reached the river we had driven through without hitch that morning. It had rained since though, and the flow that had been calm and shallow was now a raging torrent. We had no option but to return to the Save the Children compound back at the camp.
We were of course warmly welcomed by the team there. Rooms were re-arranged, some moved to tents and I was extremely grateful for the loan of some soap and a fetching colourful Somali dress that swiftly became my pyjamas, sleeping bag and towel.
Sharing a bedroom with other staff, a couple of frogs, hundreds of insects and the odd mouse was something of an adventure for me. But this is daily life for the incredible Save the Children staff and volunteers working in the Dollo Ado refugee camps, and for the thousands of families for whom it is still not safe to return home.
It is clear that as Dollo Ado becomes the world’s second biggest refugee camp complex, the impacts of the 2011 crisis are far from over and further support is still desperately needed.