(HN, UPDATED JULY 11, 2011 1850GMT) - Kenya is struggling to cope with the thousands of starving Somalis crossing over the border as the East African country came in for criticism for refusing to open more space for refugees.
While Kenya has accepted hundreds of thousands of Somalis - fleeing hunger and unrest in their own country - the United Nations and other agencies are pleading for more camps to relieve severe over-crowding at the congested Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya, with half-a-million people the largest of its kind in the world.
The aid organization, CARE, says that more than 66,000 refugees have been registered in Daadab since the start of 2011, and is now at more than 300% capacity. An empty facility adjacent to Dadaab, constructed with donor money, is sitting empty as the Kenyan Government mulls over the situation.
Meanwhile, with upwards of 12 million people affected by the drought in the region, the UN is now classifying the drought as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
"I have no doubt that in today's world, Somalia corresponds to the worst humanitarian disaster. I have never seen in a refugee camp people coming in such desperate conditions," said Antonio Guterres, the head of UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency.
UNHCR estimates that a quarter of Somalia’s 7.5 million population is now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees.
Said UNHCR: "The Somali refugees are arriving in an appalling state of health, dehydrated and severely malnourished, especially children. Malnutrition rates among newly-arriving refugee children under the age of five range from 40 to 50 per cent."
Aside from Kenya and Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti are also severely affected.
Guterres expressed concern for the plight of children. "These people are arriving in awful conditions, especially the children - almost half of which are arriving with acute or moderate malnutrition...Women are exhausted after having walked for two weeks in some cases."
Guterres is expected to meet with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki early this week, however the government is expected to cite national security for its reluctance to accept an unlimited number of Somali refugees. (In the aftermath of Al Qaeda's 1998 bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, the US pressed the Kibaki Government to stem the flow of Islamic extremists from Somalia).
Further north, about 1,700 Somalis are arriving daily in southeast Ethiopia. Today the country said it needed $398 million to help cope with the drought.
"It is estimated that a total of 4.5 million people will require humanitarian assistance during the remaining period of the current year from July to December 2011," Agriculture Minister Mitiku Kassa told reporters.
The European Union on Wednesday announced it would provide 5.67 million euros to help the millions of people affected by the drought - bringing to 70 million euros the bloc's assistance to the drought crisis.
But the UN said donations are at less than the half way mark for its appeal.
Said OCHA chief Valerie Amos at a press conference Saturday: " We will need to increase our efforts in all these countries to get to those who most need our help. And we will have to ask our donors to do more. They have been generous with Ethiopia and I hope that that generosity will continue and extend to the neighbouring countries."
- HUMNews Staff