The seriousness of the East Africa crisis can not be understated. Islamic Relief South Africa’s Monitoring & Evaluation Officer, Mohammad Shakil Dauhoo, recently travelled to Kenya, visiting the largest refugee camp in that region to witness the current situation.
As I stood at the top of the water tower looking over the camel and goat herds gulping litres of water, I found it extremely difficult to fully comprehend how the desert of Dadaab has over the past 2 decades become the frontline of the East Africa war and famine crisis.
The Dadaab refugee camp is approximately 500 km from Nairobi and 80 km from the Kenya/Somalia border, it has been in existence over the last 25 years, established in 1991 because of civil war in Somalia for an estimated population of 100,000 refugees, and has hosted refugees of different nationalities, but mainly Somalis in 5 separate camps. When the famine crisis hit East Africa in 2011, more than 250 000 refugees took shelter in the camps and with the current humanitarian crisis in the same region, officials are expecting more and more to arrive, with no end to the exodus in sight despite the efforts of the Kenyan government to close the camps.
These refugees survived unimaginable journeys across war-torn areas, walking up to 300 km through long arid areas in search of food & water for themselves, their families and their livestock. Along the unforgiving journeys, many lost family members and livestock because of lack of food and water. Despite the struggles, they have undoubted belief that Allah is testing them and they have firm conviction that sooner or later they will be rewarded. Their faith gives them hope.
In Kathume, one of Dadaab’s water point, I met Haya*, a young mother from Somalia. She is 28 years old with 7 children and has been living in the host community around the camps for more than 8 years. She walks 8 hours every second day in order to fetch water for her household consumption. We had a short conversation after which I asked her, “how can Islamic Relief help you now?”, with a contagious smile Haya politely;
“what else can I ask for? If Islamic Relief didn’t install this water point I would have to walk 20 hours to the nearest water point every third day of the week in order to fetch water.” Her answer left me speechless and even more perplexed to comprehend how these people survived in such basic conditions and yet are so content with the little they have.
This trip has taught me that water scarcity is not just a major threat to food security but more importantly any delay in providing a serious response to the crisis affecting the East Africa region can lead to an apocalypse.