In a related development, the World Bank announced in Washington, DC, on Thursday that it was donating US$30 million to UNHCR to help the more than half-a-million refugees – mostly women and children – in targeted camps in Ethiopia and Kenya get access to nutrition, health and sanitation services.
The grant will be used over an 18-month period to combat malnutrition, provide basic health services (including paediatric and maternal care) and for an immunization programme. In addition, the money will be used to expand access to safe water and sanitation services, and to prevent and treat common illnesses such as diaorrhea, measles and malaria.
“The funds granted today will allow us to expand coverage of essential health, nutrition and sanitation services in the largest refugee camps in the Horn of Africa,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.
UNHCR is highly concerned about the health of the tens of thousands of Somali refugees fleeing drought, famine and fighting in their country this year, especially children. Malnutrition and measles have been blamed for many deaths in refugee camps in recent weeks.
But the refugee agency and its partners have been making progress in boosting health care and providing nutrition to vulnerable refugees in several camps, including those in the Dollo Ado region of eastern Ethiopia. Some of the World Bank funding will be used in these camps.
A UNHCR spokesman said that a measles vaccination campaign, completed two weeks ago, had resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of new cases and related fatalities in the Dollo Ado camps. “Mobile health teams are reaching many families who previously had no access to medical services,” Adrian Edwards said.
In the Kobe camp, there has been a steady decline in the crude mortality rate, which is now estimated to be 2.1 per 10,000 people per day, down from a rate of four to five people per 10,000 a few weeks ago.
“When Ethiopia’s newest camp, Hilaweyn, opened six weeks ago, the overall malnutrition rate among newly arrived refugee children under the age of 18 was 66 per cent. The rate has now dropped to 47 per cent,” Edwards said.
Across all camps in Dollo Ado, the overall rate is around 35 per cent as the nutritional feeding programmes for refugee children have been able to reach the most vulnerable. “We are continuing these feeding programmes as the rate of malnutrition is still high, particularly among children under the age of two,” Edwards added.
Meanwhile, an average of 300 Somalis continue to cross the border daily into Dollo Ado from the southern Somalia regions of Bay, Gedo and Bakool. New arrivals say conditions in Somalia are still precarious, with food hard to come by because of the drought. Some are also fleeing continuing conflict and violence.
In the capital, Mogadishu, the incidence of diaorrhea and measles among internally displaced Somalis (IDP) remains a concern and the estimated mortality rates among children under the age of five continue to be alarmingly high. Malnutrition rates have also worsened.
UNHCR has undertaken a number of fact-finding missions to some of the more than 180 makeshift camps in the Somali capital where distributions of emergency aid items have been carried out. More missions are planned.
With colder weather and rain expected in October, UNHCR is working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the distribution of some 60,000 blankets to mitigate the risk of hypothermia in Mogadishu and neighbouring regions.
UNHCR is also moving to implement transitional shelter solutions before the rainy season, and procurement of shelter material and plastic sheeting is under way.