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Kenya: Assisting the most vulnerable in Eldoret
January 11, 2008
Kenya 2008 © Susan Sandars/MSF
On January 2, an MSF team of one nurse and one logistician went to Eldoret, a Kenyan town 250 km (155 miles) northwest of the capital, Nairobi. In the wake of the violence that erupted after elections in December, the town was faced with a large influx of displaced people, which led Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to begin an emergency intervention. Today, the situation has calmed down, but the poorest displaced people wonder what their future holds now.
“The thousands of people still living in the settlements and camps all have one thing in common: they are not planning on leaving anytime soon.”
Mwania has been here before. During the tribal clashes of 1992, he came to this exact place, the Langas police station in Eldoret, to seek safety. When he returned to his village after the violence 17 years ago, his house was still intact. “This time there is nothing to go back to. My house and all my belongings have been burned,” he says. The future for this grandfather, and the 10 family members he has with him, is uncertain. For now, they will stay in the camp that has sprung up around the police station. After that, who knows?
The violence following the Kenyan election on December 27 has shocked many. The country is still reeling from outbursts that have seen houses being burnt and looted, thousands of people displaced and over 600 deaths. Although things seem to be getting calmer, the situation is unpredictable. In the last few days, MSF teams working in Eldoret, Kenya’s fifth largest city where thousands of people came to escape the violence, have witnessed a rapidly changing situation. Some internally displaced persons (IDP) camps that were packed with hundreds of families just a few days ago are now empty as many have decided to go home. Others remain crowded, and conditions in the camps vary greatly. A few are well organized, as the people living there left their homes when they were threatened and so managed to bring most of their possessions with them. Their shelters are packed with bicycles, clothes, blankets, food, buckets, and more. Others ran as their houses burned and have nothing.
But the thousands of people still living in the settlements and camps all have one thing in common: they are not planning on leaving anytime soon. “The displaced people who are in Eldoret now are some of the most vulnerable,” says Pierluigi Testa, MSF’s coordinator in the city. “Many of them are too scared or poor to return home, but the majority cannot leave, as they no longer have homes to go to.”
Kenya 2008 © Susan Sandars/MSF
MSF has been working in Eldoret since January 2. At present, an international team of eight staff visits camps and settlements, providing assistance to the displaced. On January 3, MSF chartered two planes loaded with supplies. Since then, teams have distributed 6,000 blankets, as well as 2,250 kits containing essential items such as blankets, plastic sheeting for building some kind of shelter, jerry cans for transporting and storing water, and cooking sets to about 20,000 people. Logistical teams have constructed showers and latrines and facilitated clean water in two camps. In some of the camps, nearby health clinics are slowly resuming normal activities, so MSF assists by supporting staff and providing drugs and supplies. In others, MSF doctors and nurses provide on-the-spot consultations and treatment for the sick. The most common complaints are diarrhea, skin rashes, and respiratory tract infections.
Everyone has suffered and everyone is scared. “The other day, one of the houses nearby caught fire accidentally,” says Maina, one of the people living in Langas camp, “and everyone just ran.” The psychological trauma is evident in the consultations done by a Kenyan nurse, Albina Aluda, who is employed by MSF to work in a temporary clinic in the camp: “Many people come to us saying they have headaches or aches and pains. We call it hapa hapa (here here) syndrome. They point to themselves and say they have pains ‘here’ and ‘here’, but really, their pains are more emotional than physical.”
Yet despite the trauma of the recent weeks, the medical needs in Eldoret are not acute. If the situation in Kenya continues to stabilize, MSF will consider phasing out its activities. A number of other organizations have now started working in and around Eldoret, many of which are better suited to meet the long-term needs of the displaced people. Health clinics and hospitals, which were closed or hampered by a lack of staff during the worst of the violence, are up and running again, and should be able to meet people’s health needs. MSF will continue to monitor the situation in Eldoret, but will concentrate its efforts on other, more remote locations, such as the rural areas around Molo, where more assistance is needed.