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Severe Malnutrition Rates Increase as Food Rations Decrease in Kenya Refugee Camps
June 28, 2001
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that malnutrition rates among refugees in Dadaab, northeast Kenya are rising at an alarming rate. MSF nutritional data shows that over the past six months, general food distribution to the camp population has diminished by 35 percent resulting in a 172 percent increase in severe malnutrition rates among children under five.
The majority of the 127,000 refugees living in the three camps of Dadaab are refugees from Southern Somalia. Most have been living in the camps for ten years, since the regime of Somali dictator Siaid Barre collapsed and war broke out. Although some refugees have returned home, many continue to flee fighting and instability, particularly in Southern Somalia.
Since mid-April, the size of individual rations distributed by the World Food Program (WFP) have decreased by 35 percent. As a direct consequence, the number of children enrolled in MSF nutritional programs in the camps has increased dramatically over the past few weeks. In January 2001, 72 children under five were registered in MSF's therapeutic feeding centers and this number increased to 196 by mid-June.
The refugees depend entirely on humanitarian assistance, as the desert-like environment does not allow farming activities and the Kenyan government forbids any movement out of the camps. There are no official plans to shut down the refugee camps or to repatriate the refugees. Under international law, their protection and care remains the responsibility of the international community.
"The international community and WFP cannot just cut food rations or ignore the problem," said Manu Moncada, MSF Head of Mission in Kenya. "Just because they are an old case-load of refugees, this does not mean that it is acceptable for food rations to go down and for the number of severely malnourished children to go up. The food pipeline must be strengthened."
Despite various appeals, WFP is facing serious shortages in their food pipeline. Present stocks of wheat flour are reportedly empty since May, while a shortfall in maize is expected for mid-July and vegetable oil in mid-June. Stocks of maize, lentils and oil are expected to run out completely by August 2001.
MSF has been working in the three Dadaab camps since 1992 and is in charge of all health care for refugees there. MSF is currently providing therapeutic care and high-energy food rations for 196 severely malnourished children through the three camp hospitals, and supplementary feeding for 1,850 moderately malnourished children through nine health posts. There are four international and 30 national MSF staff working in the Dadaab camps.