Feature story: Through the desert storm in the Horn of Africa


Feature story: Through the desert storm in the Horn of Africa

Global News 00:17

DADAAB, Eastern Kenya/ HONG KONG, 13 July 2011 – It was a difficult decision, but in the end Hawa Issak decided to leave her home. The drought had destroyed her entire family’s livelihood, her husband had left her and she was pregnant. She did not see any future in Gedo region of Southern Somalia for her or her unborn baby, so she joined the 420 km trek together with six other families, hoping to find help in neighboring Kenya. They walked for 28 days in blistering heat and dust until finally they reached Dadaab, a small village in Eastern Kenya.

Heavy winds are hauling through the open fields of Dadaab. Children’s faces are covered with dust and everyone is having difficulties to breath and talk. Animal cadavers are lying between dry bushes: It’s not easy for anyone or anything to survive in such a blistering environment. The population of the refugee camp in Dadaab has swelled to a massive 380,000 people, almost all of them living in makeshift tents.

“Looking around, we mainly see women and children,” says Mr Elhadj As Sy, the UNICEF Regional Director for the Eastern and Southern Africa Region, during his recent visit to Dadaab. “They are again the ones that are hardest hit by this triple shock of drought – which is related to climate change – , soaring food prices and the armed conflict in Somalia.  People went through so many hardships to get here. They are in very bad shape. It’s really humbling and sobering to be here.” 13Jul-Horn_of_Africa_1

The refugees in Dadaab, however, are only part of a much larger problem. Due to two consecutive failed rainy seasons, price increases of up to 200% for some staple foods, as well as the escalating fighting in Somalia, the Horn of Africa is facing one of the most severe food crises in the world today.

13Jul-Horn_of_Africa_2 To rescue more than 2 million children under the age of five who are suffering from malnutrition, UNICEF is providing therapeutic food to those most at risk. Some, however, reach the hospital too late. Last week, six young children died in the therapeutic feeding center in Ifo camp.

“The most impressive thing for me is that the poorest mothers in the worst cases of deprivation still love their children and want the best for them. They want them to be well fed, well-educated and to grow up with a future.” said Mr Elhadj As Sy. “To listen to all their stories, with smiles on their faces and hope for the future is a true source of inspiration for all of us.”

In the midst of dust and hardship, one of these stories of inspiration and courage is the story of Hawa Issak, the 21-year old woman from Gedo in Somalia. Shortly after her arrival in Dadaab she gave birth to a boy, her third child. “I gave him the name Ibrahim,” she says proudly with a smile on her face. “We are safe now …..for the time being.”