When our bush plane touched down on the dirt airstrip in Dolo Ado, I had an idea of what to expect. Since I was last in this remote corner of Ethiopia in February, the number of Somali refugees had exploded from just under 50,000 to around 100,000; up to 2,000 people have been arriving each day. Having endured the ravages of ongoing conflict for decades, Somalis are now facing a drought affecting the entire Horn and rivaling those on record going back to the 1960s.
I was in Dolo Ado with other U.S. government officials and representatives from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, and the governments of Sweden and Japan in order to witness firsthand the situation at the camps. This visit was intended to help to inform decisions and mobilize additional resources of the international community to respond to the current humanitarian emergency. The U.S. is already one of the largest donors of emergency assistance to the region, providing over $368 million to date this fiscal year to help those in need, and we are exploring additional ways to respond.
The tragedy lies not only in the number of refugees, but also in their physical condition. Food is scarce inside Somalia and the rate of malnutrition among newly arriving refugees is staggering -- close to half of the new arrivals are acutely malnourished and nearly a quarter of the children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Out of every 10,000 people, seven die each day. In a "normal emergency," the mortality rate is two per ten thousand per day. Even the most seasoned relief workers haven't seen an emergency of this magnitude in a generation.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. As we wandered through the refugee camp, talking with people who had been there for several days or who had just crossed the border a few hours earlier, we heard versions of the same story over and over again. One man I met had come all the way from Mogadishu, traveling for nine days with his wife and six children with very little to eat along the way. I talked with him as he sat on the hospital cot of his youngest child -- a three- year-old girl I'll call Aisha. As we spoke, Aisha never stopped moaning. She could not get comfortable amidst the heat and flies as her tiny bones threatened to pierce her paper-thin skin.
Providing urgent life-saving assistance to these desperate refugees is a veritable army of non-governmental organizations, led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Ethiopian government's Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs. Though the challenges are great and the conditions harsh, these aid workers are highly competent and deeply committed. To support their efforts, the U.S. government is in the process of programming $63 million for refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia, and has made available an immediate $5 million in response to UNHCR's Emergency Appeal for Somali Refugees.
Most worryingly, it seems clear that this emergency will get worse before it gets better. It will be many months before the seasonal rains yield any crops in Somalia. We can expect that at current rates, the number of refugees at Dolo Ado will double again before the end of the year to nearly 200,000 people.
As we concluded our visit and our plane took off from that dusty air strip, I took with me a clearer picture of this crisis than cannot be conveyed by numbers alone. The stories of the refugees will stay with me, as will the faces of the starving children and their anguished parents. I felt moved by the plight of these people and inspired by their resilience. I began my journey home certain that the United States will stand steadfastly with them in the weeks and months to come.