AusAID Director General witnesses Australia’s response to the Horn of Africa crisis

AusAID Director General Peter Baxter witnessed first hand how Australian support for the ongoing humanitarian effort is saving lives in the Horn of Africa when he visited the world's largest refugee camp in northern Kenya.

Mr Baxter joined United Nations World Food Programme representatives on an inspection tour of the Ifo Refugee Camp in Dadaab, where he was able to see the critical importance of food supplies, medical facilities, water and sanitation, shelter and security in enabling hundreds of thousands of refugees to survive the effects of a prolonged drought across the region and famine in many areas of Somalia.

The three camps in Dadaab—Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera—are about 90 km south of the Kenya/Somalia border. Originally created 20 years ago to house some 90,000 refugees who had fled the conflict which brought down the Somali Government of President Siad Barre, the camps have grown into the fourth-largest settlement in Kenya, home to almost 480,000 people.

'The sheer scale of the humanitarian disaster is what hits you most,' Mr Baxter said.

'The Dadaab camp has well over 400,000 refugees, all of whom have fled unimaginable hardship, but our work in Ifo with the World Food Programme is making a real difference and saving lives.'

A new influx of refugees has been arriving on foot after long and arduous journeys for many months—currently at the rate of more than a thousand people a week. Their animals dead and their crops destroyed after two long years of drought, most arrive in individual family units with no food and clutching the few remaining possessions they are able to carry. Without help from the international community, they would starve.

Accompanied by senior WFP and UNHCR representatives, Mr Baxter visited the Friends Primary School at the Ifo Camp, home to more than 1,400 children, many of whom are going to school for the very first time. Children here receive supplementary daily meals of a nutritious porridge known as corn-soy blend (CSB), provided with Australian funds, each day. Girl students also receive a take-home ration of sugar for their families to encourage them to allow their daughters to gain an education.

Mr Baxter visited the UNHCR reception centre at the Ifo Camp, where families are registered and immediately provided with food and shelter, and children and adults are immunised against the deadly measles epidemic sweeping through the region.

Mr Baxter then visited the Ifo Hospital, where the most severely malnourished children are treated and stabilised though therapeutic feeding. This was followed by an inspection of the WFP's general food distribution site.

Following the visit to Dadaab, the group flew to arid Wajir County in north-eastern Kenya to see the support being provided to remote Kenyan communities also in desperate need of food assistance.

Wajir County is about 90 km from the Somali border, home to more an estimated 620,000 pastoralists who have been watching their herds die from lack of food, water and disease as the ongoing drought takes its toll. Acute malnutrition is as high as 28 per cent in some areas and Australia is helping to fund regular food distributions by local NGOs to 309,000 people, or 50 per cent of the population.

Mr Baxter was able to witness the monthly distribution of split peas, CSB, vegetable oil and Australian-purchased maize in the village of Arbakeramso. This includes a novel initiative involving rations of goat meat and camel's milk which help support local farmers to maintain some of their herds and will help them to renew their livestock when the rains finally come.

Australia has committed more than $98 million to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to 12 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia affected by the Horn of Africa crisis, and remains the fourth-largest country donor.

During his visit to Kenya, Mr Baxter was able to meet with Kenyan Government ministers, UN agencies, NGOs and other donors to discuss what more can be done.

'While the world continues to respond to the still-increasing humanitarian need, AusAID is thinking about how Australia can support the rebuilding of livelihoods through measures such as better livestock management, rehabilitation of water supplies and financial support,' Mr Baxter said.

'While there is no early end in sight to the current crisis, we also need to begin thinking now about the future.'

Australia has committed more than $98 million to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to 12 million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia affected by the Horn of Africa crisis and remains the fourth-largest country donor. Australia's assistance is currently providing:

  • emergency food supplies through the WFP for 1.9 million people in Somalia and supplementary food to reduce malnutrition for 90,000 children under five in Dadaab's refugee camps
  • health services and measles immunisations for two million children and essential drugs for 300 health clinics through UNICEF in Somalia
  • more than 85,000 people with access to water and sanitation in northern Kenya through Australian NGOs
  • support to the UNHCR for the shelter and protection of 660,000 vulnerable woman and children in regional refugee camps.

Last reviewed: 16 September 2011