Cholera outbreak hits Kenya’s largest refugee complex – UN agency

Somali refugees at the world's largest refugee complex at Dadaab in north-east Kenya. Photo: UNHCR

15 November 2011 – Heavy rains and an outbreak of cholera in Kenya’s Dadaab complex is exacerbating the situation in the overcrowded refugee camp, where aid efforts were already hampered by insecurity, the United Nations reported today.

There are now 60 cases of cholera in the camps, including 10 laboratory-confirmed cases and one refugee death, according to Andrej Mahecic, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The cholera is believed to have started among new arrivals who had most likely acquired it in Somalia or en route to Dadaab, he told reporters in Geneva.

“Rains and flooding had affected the trucking of water to parts of the camps, and we fear some refugees resorted to using unsafe water from flooded areas.”

Dadaab is home to more than 400,000 registered refugees, nearly all of them Somali, with an estimated 70,000 people having arrived in July and August as conditions in their homeland rapidly deteriorated.

To manage the cholera outbreak, UNHCR and its partners have set up cholera treatment centres for severe cases. Most cases can be managed through oral rehydration solutions that can be given at home or at the health posts.

The agency is working with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Health to train health workers in the community-based management of diarrhoea so that patients can begin treatment at home.

“We have increased levels of chlorine, which kills cholera-causing bacteria, at water points in the camps,” said Mr. Mahecic. “These are monitored to make sure they are maintained at the correct levels.

“We are also promoting hygiene practices among the refugees, especially the use of latrines and hand washing with soap,” he added. Each refugee received 250 grams of soap with the latest food distribution and this will continue monthly for several months.

The cholera outbreak, heavy rains and the risks of other waterborne diseases are complicating efforts to assist the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Dadaab, where nearly 100 additional Kenyan police have been deployed in the last month, following the kidnapping of three aid workers.

UNHCR is assisting them with vehicles, shelter and telecommunications equipment. “Together with our partners, we are exploring options to gradually resume full operations despite continued security incidents in and around Dadaab. In the meantime, refugees are still receiving life-saving aid, namely food, water and health care,” said Mr. Mahecic.

Meanwhile, intermittent downpours in Ethiopia’s Dollo Ado area continue to cause flash floods in the area. The airstrip was hit by floods in the past four days and has subsequently remained out of service.

Nonetheless, work continues on the fifth refugee camp in the area, Bur Amino, according to UNHCR. More than 7,600 recent arrivals from Somalia are now encamped at the transit centre, where they receive basic shelter, relief items and hot meals.

Also, a nutrition survey at the Kobe and Hilaweyn camps in the Dollo Ado area has found high levels of malnutrition among children under five years of age. Refugees at both camps arrived from Somalia in extremely poor health condition, with many families losing children to malnutrition en route or after arrival in Ethiopia.

Health and nutrition programmes have been set up by a range of experienced partners to address malnutrition, especially among the youngest children, but progress has been slow, said UNHCR.


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