Crisis in Kakuma camp Kenya - UN reports alarming rates of malnutrition Nov 2005
Kakuma camp is larger than most actual towns in Kenya. Home to 73,000 refugees, it is a sprawling expanse of huts organized along tribal lines, its perimeter fenced with concertina wire, and surrounded by desert. The camp, once regarded as temporary, is now 14 years old.
Sudanese make up the majority of the camp's inhabitants. Most fled their homeland some years ago during Africa's longest-running civil war -- the 21-year-old struggle between the Islamist government centered in Khartoum, in the north, and the marginalized black African rebels in the south fighting under the banner of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
Among the refugees I interviewed, some had survived attacks from government troops and helicopters. Others had fled the SPLM and the bloody tribal violence and famine that followed a split within its leadership. When I asked Daniel Mathiang, a 25-year-old Dinka tribesman, about the crisis that had forced him from his home in south Sudan, he responded with irony in nearly perfect English. "Do you want to know about the crisis so many years ago, or do you want to know about the crisis right now in Kakuma?"
"Our daily ration of water is 1 liter per person," he continued. "This is for drinking, cooking and washing." As a visitor who was drinking 3 to 5 liters per day to stay hydrated, I found this difficult to believe. But others corroborated Mathiang's claim. Food was also severely rationed. The weekly allotment of maize was 3.5 kilograms per person; .2 kilos of beans, and .25 of rice. Milk and sorghum were more abundant. The couple dozen people gathered around me, mostly children born in the camp, showed none of the grosser signs of malnutrition that I could observe, but all were thin.
Their complaints were borne out in testimony given in June 2002 before the U.S. Senate by Jason Phillips, director of the International Rescue Commission's program in Kenya. The IRC's role is chiefly to supplement the meager daily rations in the case of young children and lactating women. Refugees rarely receive the 2,168 calories considered the daily minimum, Phillips said. He called attention to a "dangerously high rate of malnutrition in Kakuma representing a complete abandonment of minimum international humanitarian standards for food assistance." Chronic shortages in the World Food for Peace pipeline were creating a "downward spiral" at Kakuma. Cutting back on food, he concluded, was "neither cost-effective nor humane."
Phillips' warning came more than three years ago. Inaction and the past two years of drought in northern Kenya and Ethiopia are expected to triple the rate of malnutrition among children under 5. Not surprisingly, last November the U.N. World Food Program Emergency Report cited "alarming rates of malnutrition" in Kakuma. In December, to make matters worse, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton succeeded in putting a cap on the U.N.'s annual spending. In short, the food deficit at Kakuma and other camps is increasing, not shrinking.