The biggest emergency I have ever seen
A newly arrived Somali refugee waits in a registration center in the Dadaab refugee camp on July 10,2011 in northeastern Kenya. Thousands of Somalis have fled into neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia in recent weeks and many have died of starvation while fleeing due to one of the region's worst drought in decades. The over-crowded Dadaab refugee camp was built for 90,000, but is now home to over 380,000 Somali refugees.
July 14th, 2011
01:44 PM ET

The biggest emergency I have ever seen

Editor's Note: Elhadj As Sy is the UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

By Elhadj As Sy – Special to CNN

Not long ago, Hawa Issak realized that if she stayed in her home in Southern Somalia, she would not be able to secure the survival of her two children and herself. She was pregnant with a third child, her husband had left her and the region’s worst drought in decades had scorched the earth creating utter desolation.

She set out with six other families to find help in Kenya. It took them a month to reach Dadaab, on the other side of the Kenyan border, almost 200 miles away. It’s a remarkable feat for anyone. Now imagine thousands - tens of thousands - of people similarly on the move, stumbling for weeks through dust and scrub beneath a blistering sun. Most of them are women and children hoping to stay alive long enough to reach what has ballooned into the biggest refugee camp in the world.

Right now there is a massive and shocking humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa –specifically in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. The triple shock of drought, skyrocketing food prices and the ongoing armed conflict in Somalia has created an almost perfect storm of disaster.

Over 2 million children are malnourished, including some 500,000 who are suffering from life-threatening severe malnutrition. Families are fleeing their communities in search of food and water. Many are dying before they can get help.

What once was a village has become the third biggest human settlement in Kenya. So far, some 380,000 people are already in Dadaab looking for aid with an additional 10,000 people arriving every week. They are coming mostly from Somalia, where political instability deprives its starving citizens of any safety net. At Dadaab, they can get shelter, some safety and desperately needed food and water.

Up to 25% of children arriving in the camp are malnourished - that’s double what is considered the emergency threshold. Severely malnourished children receive therapeutic milk and, once they are stabilized, a ready-to-use high protein peanut paste that helps them recover from wasting. About $1 worth of this milk can feed a child for a day.

But the scope of this crisis is quickly overwhelming current resources. And those who survive the trip to Dadaab are sometimes too far gone to be saved.

Last Sunday, when I visited the Ifo section of Dadaab, I learned that six young children had died in the therapeutic feeding center, just in the course of the previous week.

It seems almost unbelievable that so many children might be at risk of dying from the consequences of malnutrition in the year 2011. UNICEF, along with national and international partners, is working non-stop to provide aid to those in Dadaab and throughout the Horn of Africa - strengthening its feeding and nutrition centers which have been operating in many places and providing safe drinking water and vaccines to make sure diseases do not compound the already desperate situation.

Still, there is no question more resources are needed, and fast. Aid organizations must have additional funding to meet the needs of the 10 million people threatened by this disaster. The more that’s done right now, the more lives can be saved. This is a crisis that’s been slow to build and even slower to make it onto the world’s radar. We cannot respond slowly. Every day counts.

You can help by donating at UNICEF or calling toll free: 1-800-FOR-KIDS (1-800-367-5437). You can also mail checks for UNICEF to 125 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038.

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Topics: Africa • Aid • Crisis • Human Rights • Water

soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. Bill

    There are hungry American children in almost every town in this country... why dont we feed them first ?

    July 17, 2011 at 12:05 am | Reply
    • Anonymous Coward

      Possibly because they are not dying from starvation?

      July 17, 2011 at 3:26 am | Reply
  2. Will.I.Am

    Bill...........
    What hungry Americans are you talking about? Ever heard of WELFARE?
    They don't have that in the 3rd World!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:15 am | Reply
    • Godfrey

      People die of starvation in the US every day. Don't fool yourself. What is worse, do not try , please, to fool us.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:33 am | Reply
      • 40seven

        People die of stupidity every day, as well. Why aren't you one of them?

        July 23, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  3. Jim Bowie

    America cannot feed the world. Go beg the UN. Maybe a people so stupid that they have four, five, six children into abject poverty don't deserve to survive.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:29 am | Reply
    • Beefburger

      They have several children to increase chances of survival. To say that we in the US cannot feed the world when our nation has the fattest a$$es on the planet is asinine. Our problem in this nation is morbid obesity, push away from the table tubby! Let others in the world have a turn at the trough pigglet. We don't have to feed the world, but maybe we can stop being hogs of the resources?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:18 am | Reply
      • Zipe

        knsrei1 on April 16, 2011 etzel33! Wind turbines have a little accessory called 'vane' which detects the direction the wind is coming from and turns the turbine into that direction...dooooh!!!

        February 12, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  4. 40seven

    America is in trouble. Grave trouble. We are on the verge of economic disaster and yet people in this forum are talking about sending financial aid yet again into a region where corruption and mismanagement will result in worthless allocation of your hard-earned dollars. If you want to devote your time and energy towards saving the rest of the world, but not your own, then that's great...and that's your business. As for me, I think it's time for Americans to start taking care of America so that we will still have a great country that can afford to help afford the less fortunate in the future. Our infrastructure is crumbling...we have rampant unemployment and foreclosures...homelessness is on the rise. If you are so ignorant as to believe that the US is NOT a 3rd world country now, then I would emplore you to visit an airport in the Middle East or drive on the pristine streets in Europe: Compare and contrast, my fellow Americans. It is not that we are losing the lead in our global rankings in education, standard of living, technology and quality of life....we have LOST that lead and are far below many industrialized nations. Live with it; you made it this way. Instead of taking care of business at home, you entrusted your country's leadership with those who would invest billions in the infrastructure of countries whose populace would, by and large, embrace the death of you and your loved ones. When will you finally put your own country first? When will you finally secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others? Why are we pumping billions into Afghanistan while our own roads and bridges are crumbling? Why are we outsourcing all our manufacturing jobs overseas? I weep for this country as I have truly witnessed the decline and fall of the American Empire. And this before I reached 50 years of age.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:38 am | Reply
    • Godfrey

      47, get a bad bowl of humus, eh? Pristine streets of Europe? Sound as if you have been watching too many PBS series, if indeed you are American. Your use of the first person plural is spotty, and telling. That switch between your "we" and your "you" is about as sincere as used lavatory paper. Try driving an automobile for once, and not your high horse. . "Your "fellow" Americans? You are not Richard Nixon. You are not even Daffy Duck (apologies to Daffy.)

      July 17, 2011 at 1:40 am | Reply
      • Jasper

        Actually, "hummus" is spelled with two 'l's, moron. Rather than focusing on my use of the first person plural, perhaps you could have focused on the intent and meaning of the message. You are probably one of those dimwits that focus all your attention on the Casey Anthony trial rather than the issues that drive your day-to-day existence. Don't like my message? That's great... go ahead and save the world with YOUR money. Oh, and by the way, here in America we call it TOILET paper; not lavatory paper. Your ignorance and culture (obviously non-American) is telling, d0uchebag!

        July 23, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  5. stuart b

    I strongly agree that we should not be the policemen for the world or the worlds food provider..I'm 65 yrs old and had to apply for social sercurity earlier then I wanted. I don't have a nest egg to fall back on..But I strongly believe that no child should be punished for the sins of thier father..How can so many people be outraged at the tragic death of cayle anthony.A death that no one had the power to prevent remain silent at the sounds of a child dying from starvation. I will reach into my own pocket and send what I can..Not because it's the right thing to do but because it's the human thing to do..No child should suffer such a slow painfull death

    July 17, 2011 at 1:51 am | Reply
  6. Beefburger

    Scientific fact, a population will expand to the limits of its food supply.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:13 am | Reply
  7. jsco

    Unfortunately, interfering with the situation will likely end up increasing overall suffering in the long run. these people will have as many children as the food supply will allow. Sending in food aid will only assure that the population will continue to grow and create an even greater need that the local resources will not provide. The western world looks on other cultures with a viewpoint that is distorted by our experience. pushing our way of life on others does not always yield good results.

    July 17, 2011 at 10:44 am | Reply
  8. scir91onYouTube

    wow,another country in africa begging for handouts from the world. i have been seeing these ridiculous "emotional" images for the past 4 decades of my life on tv. every year it's the same old story! WORLD to AFRICA: get your act together and stop begging. have some pride and use your brains because you were born with one. 50 years of begging isn't a cause anymore. it's become your profession.

    July 17, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
  9. bkh

    Why do these people keep on breeding and getting more and more babies? Don't they have some idea that maybe they shouldn't have 10 kids for each woman?

    July 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  10. colin

    why UN did not take action and they should have a resolution and ask all NATO countries to provide aids to East Africa.
    This is a much bigger diaster involving over 10 Millions Civilians. All the funding spend in Libyan should be spent here
    if western countries are really concern about the civilians.

    July 18, 2011 at 12:38 am | Reply
  11. zhang Bou

    The news is biased in such a way that it makes me think the best way for terrorism to defeat America and the West is probably not by AK47 or suicide bombers, but to send into their countries, one country at a time, millions and millions of refugees and desperate people from slumps around the world , via boat, foot, bicycle, ect. If they can all arrive simultaneously into US, the humanity crises will destroy the country, one country at a time.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:16 am | Reply
  12. T klimchuk

    Just let them be This is natures way of birth control The fact is there a too many people for the land to support and something has to give Kenya should close its borders to these people Once these muslims are let in will they go home again or will the camps become breeding grounds for terrorism Why dont the other muslim countries in the region take them in or help feed them

    July 18, 2011 at 4:08 am | Reply
  13. endhunger

    The children of the world are hungry. Because I live in the U.S. I will never have to know what it is like to see a young child die of hunger. The conditions in other countries are so bad the people struggle to just get clean water and a safe place to sleep. Unless you have visited a developing country you cannot understand what it is like to live in the heat, filth, and unsanitary conditions. They live in a permanent Horrible camping trip that never ends. They do not have cars, bikes, running water, electricity, extra clothing, washing machines, radios, TV, etc. We are lucky because we have running water in a solid home. To fully understand live like they do for 1 month, but to fully understand take enough food for only one day, go in your back yard and pitch a tent (at this point you are living better than many of them), walk to the nearest creek, river or lake to get water in a bucket, cook with wood you gather and sleep on the ground. This will help you understand the suffering of the innocent children. They need the support and love of people from around the world. If you are like me you have more than you use daily. We can afford to help others.

    Here is a second idea try to walk a mile in their shoes. If you have two or more children...try to picture this; you only have enough food to feed two people, you must make a decision who gets food and who doesn't. You may be tempted to say yourself...but if you die both of your children will surely die. So think long and hard about it....the older child may survive on the street by stealing food, or working for people and earning food, or may be exploited by others and sold as slaves. The younger child is too young to go out on their own. If you withheld food from the little one he or she will perish sooner. THIS IS AN IMPOSSIBLE situation but people in Kenya face it daily. We are blessed because in the U.S. we don't have to face such a thing. It is easy to say let them change their situation. They would change it if they could. I am sure each and every person in the refugee camp will be happy to come to the U.S. and live in our worst poverty because it will be huge improvement over their life today.

    You may not have the resources to feed, cloth, education, etc. But small organizations around the world are helping to supply food and clean water, other housing (tents), others education and others training together they will make a difference. But there will be NO Future if they do not receive clean water and nourishing food today, they will surely die of hunger related illnesses. My ancestors came for other countries to escape various forms of suffering, many times leaving behind the weaker or older family members. We have a great country and care for many people around the world.

    If you need help you will turn to a friend or family member and expect them to help. If your request and need is reasonable and your family or friends can help, they will probably help you. These people cannot call upon their friends because they are in the same situation. They are all living day by day and hoping and praying that they survive another day.

    All charities, government agencies and churches should be evaluated by the person making a donation, if you don’t agree with their practices, pay, mission, operating style, find another organization. That is what freedom is all about. Nobody wants war, but everyone wants freedom, I look forward to the day when we have freedom without war. . Living without hunger.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply
    • zhang Bou

      Why talking, you can act now – start to bring whomever you want to help into America, or into your own home no matter where you live, and the community will feed them and give them a better life for generations to come. If all poor people went to USA (millions and millions in India/African slumps, many times more than all USA citizens added up together), there will be no hunger in the world. and more importantly no obesity in the US. end hunger is not a saying to make other tax payers feel guilty, have you learnt that human are greedy (with or without food) and will never feel guilty. They need to be forced like what they do in China, there need a system to bring poor people from all over the world into US tax payers' homes to share their food.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:42 am | Reply
  14. Godfrey

    "Because I live in the U.S. I will never have to know what it is like to see a young child die of hunger."
    You do not get out much. There are many people dying from hunger in the US.

    "We are lucky because we have running water in a solid home."
    Are you bonkers, implying that there are no homeless in America?

    "to fully understand take enough food for only one day,"
    Here you just split an infinite, an unforgivable grammatical error. Where do your really live? It is certainly not in the US.

    "If you are like me you have more than you use daily. We can afford to help others. "
    Just who is the "we" in your sentence? You certainly do not speak for me. You are not from any State in the Union.America has all of the problems you enumerated above, and American blood is just as red as any other. Charity starts at home.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  15. Elijah Quillan

    Man thats crazy that you did that can you believe it only takes that long to promote the gospel.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Reply
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