International Community Overlooks Humanitarian Needs in Djibouti

from Refugees International
Published on 27 Jul 2000
At present, Djibouti is best known as the port of entry for food aid destined for Ethiopia, and the tiny country hosts one of the largest ongoing humanitarian operations in the world. Djibouti, like its larger neighbors, also suffers from a drought - and the response from donors to Djibouti's needs has not been adequate.
Donor concerns regarding the adequacy of the port of Djibouti for transporting food aid have been more than alleviated. Each day, 6000 MT of food - the equivalent of Djibouti's emergency food needs for six months -- can be transported to Ethiopia to be distributed to drought victims.

Hungry Djiboutians witness these convoys of food trucks bound for Ethiopia, as the emergency in Ethiopia overshadows the drought emergency in Djibouti. Ironically, on a per capita basis, Djibouti is the most severely drought-affected country in the region. About 100,000 of Djibouti's population of 600,000 - one-sixth of the population -is affected.

In response to Djibouti's drought, WFP has launched an emergency appeal (EMOP 6196) requesting 6073 MT of food commodities to feed 100,000 drought-affected Djiboutians and 50,000 pastoralists and nomads who range over Djibouti and bordering countries looking for pasture land. The drought has affected the nomads because their livestock are dying or sold at very low prices, which thereby destroys their livelihood. Around Dikhil, WFP has reported that livestock are dying in large numbers, which makes the nomadic pastoralists dependent on food assistance.

The U.S. stepped forward with donations totaling 4,795 MT, and Japan has donated 1,014 MT. Other than the U.S. and Japan, donors have been slow to respond to the needs of this impoverished country. Djibouti is ranked as one of the twenty poorest countries in the world and the government has few resources to commit to drought relief, social programs, or long-term development.

Djibouti, because of the large French presence and the port, is perceived as a country of economic opportunity and has traditionally received large numbers of migrants, straining the government's limited resources. Djibouti hosts roughly 24,000 registered refugees, and according to government estimates, there are about 150,000 illegal migrants in the country who drain Djibouti's social services. For example, health care workers and hospital officials at Peltier Hospital, which provides free health care services to patients, estimate that 60-70 percent of the patients are non-Djiboutians.

Long-time residents of the city of Djibouti comment that, within the past few months, the population has swelled and the number of homeless and beggars has increased. Health care workers report increasing rates of malnutrition in children under five, although systematic and widespread nutrition surveys have yet to be undertaken to confirm this trend. About 400 cases of cholera have emerged in the past six weeks, with the potential for many more cases. In addition, officials and camp elders at the refugee camps of Hol-Hol and Ali Adde report that migrants are arriving at camps in search of food and water. At Ali Adde camp, there were reports that 300 people had recently arrived, and refugees were sharing their rations with these new arrivals, placing their own food security at risk. Despite these indications that the drought is severely affecting some Djiboutians, the government and UN agencies have yet to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the situation, including a livestock assessment, nutritional monitoring, and determining actual increases in rates of migration.

Although the first WFP appeal was launched in January, the first shipment of food arrived in Djibouti only the last week of June. The Office Nationale d'Assistance aux Refugies et Sinistres (ONARS), the national agency responsible for assisting refugees and drought-affected people, has only five trucks at its disposal to deliver food to refugees and drought-affected people. Despite these constraints, ONARS, with the assistance of WFP and several local NGOs, has pre-positioned one month of rations in each district, and actual distributions began on July 15 in the five districts.

To improve the situation for drought-affected Djiboutians, RI recommends that:

  • The UN Country Team immediately undertake a more comprehensive assessment of drought-affected areas, including an evaluation of malnutrition and morbidity rates and measures to contain the growing incidence of cholera.
  • FAO initiate a livestock assessment in Djibouti and consider technical support to the Djiboutian government to develop a livestock rehabilitation/replacement program for nomads and pastoralists. The latter program could include the introduction of improved breeds of livestock, particularly drought and disease-resistant cattle, as a way to support long-term development.
  • International agencies and NGOs explore developing a long-term food security project, possibly with US Department of Agriculture Food for Progress or Section 416 (b) resources. USAID PL480, Title II may also be a source of food.
  • UNICEF formulate an appeal to the international community to expand its funding for supplemental and therapeutic feeding centers outside the city of Djibouti. In addition, UNICEF should implement ways to encourage the use of traditional water collection methods.
RI Field Representative, Michelle Brown, recently visited Djibouti.

Contact: Sayre Nyce
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