In response to reports from the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR that the number of infants dying at the Daadab refugee camp in Kenya has trebled due to drought since March, leading UK humanitarian agencies have launched a joint appeal to help more than 10 million people in East Africa.
Save the Children reports that a deadly combination of failed rains and soaring global food prices have caused the worst drought in East Africa in 60 years and left more than nine million people living in remote areas, more than half of whom are children, without enough food and water and at risk of malnutrition.
More than 1,300 people a day, the majority of them children, are arriving in the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya near the border with Somalia. It is the world's largest refugee camp with a population of more than 350,000.
"It's heartbreaking to see child after child listed in the death register at the hospital, especially as many will have been carried for miles by their parents only to arrive too late to be saved. The wards at the hospital are overcrowded with children on the brink of death. It’s most upsetting to see those that are silent – the nosier ones have more life left in them,” Andrew Wander, Save the Children’s Emergency Media Manager who is currently at the Daadab refugee camp, said.
“Malnutrition rates in the camp have also trebled since March as more people flood in. These are children who could die unless they get urgent help.”
More than a quarter of children in the worst-hit parts of Kenya are now dangerously malnourished, and in Somalia malnutrition rates have reached 30 per cent in some areas, making East Africa one of the hungriest places on earth.
Save the Children has already launched a major humanitarian response in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, feeding tens of thousands of underweight children, providing life-saving medical treatment, and getting clean water to remote communities.
But with the situation worsening by the day - and no more rain due till late September - the children's charity urgently needs money to dramatically ramp up its response.
“Treating malnourished children is quick and easy but only if we can reach them in time. We desperately need people to support our emergency appeal helping us to increase the number of feeding centres across the region and helping us to get crucial life-saving to children in time," Wander said.
Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the Disasters Emergency Committee which is orchestrating the multi-charity campaign, said: “Slowly but surely, these people have seen their lives fall apart – crops, livestock and now their homes have been taken by the drought."
“They’ve been left with no alternative but to seek shelter and life-saving help elsewhere. We have a duty to help quickly before the situation spirals out of control.”
Large areas of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia are affected and the DEC appeal will also include South Sudan – set to become the world’s newest country on July 9.