I arrived to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya this morning, by plane from Nairobi. Too busy, too exhausted (physically and emotionally) to write much detail but here are my first impressions: Walking through the gates of the Dadaab camp receiving area, I immediately encounter a newly-arrived family of five. Covered in Somalian dust, they appear tired and, for a family with small boys, abnormally sullen.
As a grandmother of boys about the same age my heart melts, because, I know, my boys can't sit still for more than a few minutes. These small boys having just walked, I learn from their mother, for 14 days to reach the camp, sit almost lifeless. Their arms and legs are literally skin and bones. But now their mother tells me, despite their appearance, they are happy. My translator tells me the parents decided to make the long walk to the camp after their crops failed and their livestock died. Now they will receive food and water and a margin of security they had not known for some time in Somalia.
They also tell me they will return to Somalia when there is peace and there is rain.
As we move through the camp new arrival reception area, I'm asked if I want to take a picture distributing rations to the refugees. I'm told this is the image many donor representatives want to send home as proof that food is actually being received by those in need. I politely decline as I instead watch the efficient staff from the UN World Food Program and CARE distribute commodities to the anxious new arrivals. At the end of this line I see a dust covered little girl sucking on a Plumpy Nut ration, her first food in several days, and she's smiling!
There is something remarkable about seeing how U.S. contributions -- both from our government and the private sector -- can be transformed into something as concrete and life-saving as a simple meal for a little girl. Washington has committed around $580 million dollars to the relief effort. Hopefully that will save a lot more children here in Dadaab and around the Horn. The international community has provided around $1.4 billion, but it's not enough -- I know that and we continue to push for more support from other donors. But it is a start and it is making a real and lasting difference.
Talking with the camp's staff I learn they've solved many of the initial administrative challenges of processing and feeding a daily average of 1,300 to 1,500 new refugees. Thanks to the generosity of so many, they are also now meeting food, water, and other resource needs. But they warn, the worst is not over. One of the doctors tells me that just last night they lost three more severely malnourished children. I'm also told that there is no buffer stock. What comes in is distributed. This means that without continued donor support this population -- now estimated at over 400,000 people, mostly women and children -- may again find themselves hungry.
Tomorrow I will meet some of the key UN agencies involved in the relief effort, along with other NGOs and key donor representatives. We are doing the right thing here; we just need to do more of it.