On the Ground in the Horn of Africa

Posted by Rajiv Shah
August 9, 2011
USAID Adminstrator Shah Speaks With Women and Children at Dadaab Camp

More:Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Eighty kilometers from Kenya's border with Somalia, the Dadaab Refugee Complex -- already the world's largest refugee camp -- has seen on average 1,500 exhausted and starving men, women and children arrive each day. Fleeing from famine that is now gripping a large portion of southern Somalia largely inaccessible to aid workers, thousands of refugees have walked days -- or even weeks -- to reach help. The United Nations estimates that over 12.4 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, across the drought-stricken eastern Horn of Africa.

Yesterday, I arrived in Dadaab with representatives from across the United States Government, including Dr. Jill Biden, Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith, Senator Bill Frist and Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz. The trip underscored the commitment of the U.S. Government -- the single largest donor in the region -- to respond to the immediate crisis with life-saving assistance and investments in long-term solutions to hunger. Ultimately, we know that it is smarter and cheaper to invest in food security than face the consequences of famine and food riots.

In Dadaab, we visited the Dagahaley camp's reception center, where newly arriving refugees receive a medical screening and three weeks' worth of food to tide them over until they complete a formal registration process. The USAID-funded rations include high energy biscuits, corn meal, vegetable oil, yellow split peas, salt and sugar. Medical staff weigh the children and measure the circumference of their small arms to determine their nutrition status. Today, the worst-affected regions in Somalia have the highest malnutrition level in the world, with nearly half the population malnourished.

Because the high rates of acute malnutrition make children extremely susceptible to deadly diseases, we are also aggressively pursuing public health interventions, including therapeutic feeding and immunizations.

The Government of Kenya is working closely with the GAVI Alliance to administer pneumococcal vaccines to protect every child from pneumonia at the point of registration.

I met one Somali woman who traveled by donkey cart with her two children for 12 days looking for food. It is hard to believe that she counted among the lucky, as many families have lost children along the way.

It does not have to be this way. With Feed the Future, President Obama's initiative on food security, we are working with the Kenyan government and smallholder farmers to achieve sustainable, long-term and life-saving agriculture development.

Tomorrow, I will share with you some exciting innovations in agriculture that we saw on our visit to the Kenya Institute for Agriculture -- innovations that could help ensure we never face another famine again.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on the USAID Impact Blog.Related Content: <a data-cke-saved-href="http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistanc... href="http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/humanitarian_assistance/disaster_assistanc... title="USAID Horn of Africa Drought Fact Sheet target=" _blank"="">USAID Horn of Africa Drought Fact Sheet

Comments

Comments

Mala
|
Georgia, USA
August 9, 2011

Mala in Georgia writes:

All prayers to this terrible terrible situation.

Thor K.
|
United States
August 10, 2011

Thor in the U.S.A. writes:

Rajiv Shah is highly qualified and articulate. Reassuring that he heads up USAID. Keep up the good work!

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
August 10, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Dr. Shah,

Personally I think you are doing a great job in your capacity as the lead "good samaritan" of the USA in directing USAID's efforts globally.

I also appreciate in light of all you are faced with at the moment to fdind time to post your thoughts here, and update the readership of Dipnote.

It has been noted in hearing I believe that you'all were pre-positioning aid in anticipation of this crisis as far back as last summer, and in light of the challenge of access and transport, I was wondering if AfriCom (DoD) has done its own assessments in terms of the unique capabilities in airlift capacity and recon they have, to deliver food and water directly to those in transit to various refugee camps, via air drops of halal meals and bottled water and/or medivac to refugees spotted in drone recon flights over Somalia.

It seems to me that we could do and "end around" al shebab's intent to prevent people from leaving its areas of control by being able to move aid in faster than they can respond to and intercept it, and we have the capacity to do serious damage to their intent directly and create relief corridors to aid refugees in safe passage by establishing air superiority and the capability to render them immobile in that process.

If we are as I understand it, on the hunt for al-quaida there anyway with these kinds of assets, I have no doubt DoD can walk and chew bubblegum at the same time without calling it "mission creep".

In addition, what our military did to bring in aid after the 2004 tsunami to affected areas leads me to think with all the nations fighting piracy in the region, a few thousand troops supplied by each of them could swiftly create safe havens for refugees on the coast and deliver aid from ship to shore along with the security needed to push out from the beachheads and put al shebab in full retreat using the current UN mandates that have had some 9000 peacekeepers in country.

Obviously your trip made intent known that we take this seriously, and it's really disturbing to a lot of Americans and many citizens globally that other governments don't seem to share your sense of urgency or commitment.

These same folk have made the investment in stopping piracy because it threatens the global suply chain and economies, and for a few dollars more and a few boots on the ground in teamwork with us everyone has the perfect opportunity to save millions of lives, end piracy off the horn, and create the conditions where al-shebbab is rendered into the dustbin of history as a vile footnote as to why the international community can never again allow terrorists to dictate the terms of people's existence.

As I once put this to someone years ago on this very subject,

"You can step on ants, but until you deal with the ant hill, you'll still have an ant problem."

I would invite you to review;
http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/archive/entry/q_piracy_sea

In particular, my assessment posted on Sat Apr 11, 2009

In which I called for a Marshal Plan for Somalia

We have at this time not just a compelling need forced by the humanitarian urgency to protect populations at risk of starvation , conflict, and disease, but a unique opportunity to solve multiple intractable problems affecting the entire global community's economic and security outlook while becoming hero's to millions in the process of providing hope and sustenance.

Dr Shah, I'm only human and I hate being right most of the time let alone sounding like a needle stuck in a groove in a badly scratched record, but I gotta ask you to read what I had to say and ask yourself,

"If this government had listened to this citizen when he posted this, and made policy of his suggestions, would we be dealing with a famine affecting well over ten million people today?"

Do you have any idea how painful it is for me to have to ask you to consider this question sir?

Maybe you can't answer it with so much as a simple "yes" or "no". So I have one small request if you can't Dr Shah, that just maybe you'll have enough respect for my efforts to inspire folks to think, to drop this dipnote on the President's desk so he may consider it?

I'd appreciate that greatly. Keep up the good work,

EJ

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