Humanitarian activities in the world’s largest refugee complex have been restricted to essential services amid worsening security exemplified by the 13 October abduction of two Spanish aid workers and the earlier abduction of a Kenyan NGO driver in the eastern Kenyan facility.
All but critical food, water, health and nutrition and some child protection services are suspended, as is the registration of new arrivals in the Dadaab complex.
Eleven cases of cholera have been confirmed, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which said transmission was occurring in all three main camps.
“We are on alert and are using community participatory methods to reach out to the high-risk areas to disseminate hygiene-related messages,” said Emanuel Auko, a public health officer with CARE, an international NGO.
The rainy season, which runs from October to December, is exacerbating the risk of diseases, such as cholera, spreading. Floods have washed away the tents of some 5,000 people in the new Ifo 2 camp, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Some 460,000 refugees live in Dadaab, which was set up at the onset of the civil war in Somalia in 1991, with an initial capacity of 90,000.
In its weekly bulletin on the Horn of Africa crisis, OCHA said “major concerns” had been raised by the fact that cholera cases were now being handled outside hospitals by “incentive workers” – staff drawn from the refugee community – due to the restrictions on many professional aid workers usually based in Dadaab.
The rains have also hampered road access, to, from and within the camps, and damaged some latrines. “We are seeing a worrying rise in the number of watery diarrhoea cases and a general deterioration of the health situation among refugees, with some 600 people approaching the health centres daily,” said UNHCR in a statement.
For several weeks up until 7 November, when the International Organization for Migration began to provide transport, some 10,000 refugees faced a 12km walk from one new camp to another to collect rations weighing 20-30kg. Insecurity prevented deliveries to the Kambioos camp where these refugees live.
Insecurity has also affected education in Dadaab, with the Kenyan government closing primary schools early and evacuating most teachers because of threats made against them. However, the current round of national examinations are not expected to be affected.
The Kenyan government has deployed more police into the camps to enhance security. Kenyan military forces are engaged in an intervention in Somalia targeting Al-Shabab militants, who are blamed for the abductions and other cross-border attacks.
Refugees in Dadaab recently demonstrated in support of the intervention. “We feel it is high time the rebels are [defeated] so that we will not only get safety in Dadaab but also can some day go back to our homeland,” said Kusow Noone, Hagadera camp community chairman.
Tension, however, remains high within and outside Dadaab. An explosive device was recently discovered close to the Hagadera camp even as aid workers prepared to resume normal operations.
The host community, which has also been affected by the increased insecurity and recent drought, is still feeling the refugee pressure.
“These kinds of problems like kidnappings and killings were not there before these drought-driven Somali refugees flocked into the camps. They should be taken to some other place,” said a local resident.