As the United Nations (UN) declares famine in parts of southern Somalia, increasing numbers of Somalis affected by the drought in East Africa are fleeing across the country’s borders in search of food, clean water and shelter. Having delivered health care services since 1991 in the region, International Medical Corps teams on the ground in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are working rapidly to provide humanitarian relief.
Defined by an acute malnutrition rate of greater than 30 percent of the population, famine calls for critically urgent protection of human lives and vulnerable groups. In some areas in southern Somalia nearly half the population is malnourished and more than one in four people are severely malnourished – twice the threshold for a humanitarian emergency and the highest malnutrition rate in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) is reporting that 11 million across the region are affected and as many as 1,700 are fleeing per day over the Somali border en route to overcrowded refugee camps in neighboring countries including Ethiopia and Kenya – many are dying along the way.
“We are extremely concerned that more than 33 percent of children arriving at some camps are acutely malnourished and need immediate intervention. This in addition to the many children who are not able to survive the difficult journey to the camps,” said Chris Skopec, Director of International Operations for International Medical Corps. “Our teams are already working to establish nutrition programs and meet health needs, but this crisis will require a large and long-term response.”
Near Dolo Ado in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, International Medical Corps is working with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs to provide immediate relief for drought-affected Somalis seeking asylum and basic resources in refugee camps including Boqolmayo, Melkadida, and Kobe. Having worked in the local camps since 2009, International Medical Corps is well placed to immediately mobilize its local resources and community network to effectively deliver nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, mental health and reproductive health services to the most vulnerable.
As more than 45 percent of new arrivals at the camps are reported to be suffering from severe acute malnutrition, International Medical Corps is implementing supplementary feeding points throughout the camps as well as targeted nutrition services for infants and young children. As overcrowded camp conditions have “increased the risk of the spread of infectious diseases like polio, cholera and measles” according to the World Health Organization, International Medical Corps is also working with local health authorities to safeguard sanitation and hygiene conditions. The organization will construct additional latrines and bathing areas and disseminate hygiene education amongst new arrivals to thwart the spread of infectious disease. In addition, International Medical Corps will continue to provide gender-based violence as well as mental health and reproductive health services including the provision of healthcare for pregnant women.
International Medical Corps’ national team in Ethiopia will continue to work with the Ministry of Health to strengthen local capacity, fill gaps and meet humanitarian needs throughout Ethiopia. In Kenya, where the government has declared the drought a national disaster, International Medical Corps is already expanding the organization’s existing nutrition services in three areas hard-hit by the drought: Samburu, Tana River and Isiolo. As the number of Somalis in need of emergency humanitarian assistance has increased by 50 percent since April, International Medical Corps is preparing to address nutrition and WASH needs in Central Somalia and is already addressing nutrition needs in Somaliland.