My prayer to God: 'please heal my little daughter'
East Africa's refugee crisis worsens
Published 17/07/2011 | 05:00
Malnutrition stole most of Habibo's eyesight and left the one-year-old close to death.
Medical personnel tried to pump life back into the toddler, but she only moved when her stomach fitfully spasmed.
As her mother tried to feed her, her frail hands tried to resist the small cup placed between her lips.
"My prayer is 'God, heal my daughter,'" said Habibo's mother, Marwo Maalin, in a resigned tone.
East Africa's drought is battering Somali children, hundreds of whom have been left for dead on the long, dry journey to the world's largest refugee camp.
Unicef last week called the Somalia drought and resulting refugee crisis "the most severe humanitarian emergency in the world".
The international Red Cross also warned that one in 10 children in southern Somali suffers from acute malnutrition.
Thousands of Somalis are walking days and sometimes weeks to reach the refugee complex known as Dadaab, in hopes of finding food. But the journey is claiming untold numbers of children as victims. Young, lifeless bodies abandoned by their parents lie on the sandy path. In other cases parents perish during the journey, leaving children in the wilderness, alone.
Unicef says that more than a half million Somali children face life-threatening conditions with long-lasting consequences for their physical and mental development.
For example, Habibo was suffering from a lack of vitamin A, which can lead to permanent blindness, according to Dr Luana Lima of Medecins Sans Frontieres, who was treating her.
The UN's refugee agency says about 40 per cent of the Somali children arriving at Dadaab are malnourished.
"We are finding children who are arriving in very poor conditions," said Allison Oman, a UNHCR nutritionist.
Somalia's most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, began banning aid groups from operating in the territories it controls in southern Somalia in mid-2009. Because of the severity of need in Somalia, though, the al-Qa'ida-linked group this month dropped the ban and said aid groups could return.
Last Wednesday, Unicef made what appears to be the first outside aid drop by air to the al-Shabab-controlled town of Baidoa, flying in five metric tons of food, clean water, equipment and medicine.
The agency said the health supplies would provide materials for 10 health facilities and reach up to 100,000 people over three months.
Back at Kenya's Dadaab camps -- a sprawling complex filled with makeshift homes of sticks and tarps -- more than 380,000 people have crammed into a camp built for just 90,000 -- with more than 1,000 people arriving each day.
An already-built camp that can house 40,000 people, named Ifo, lies unused. Kenyan Prime Minster Raila Odinga visited the camp last Thursday and said it would be allowed to open. A UNHCR official said the change in position was a big relief.