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Horn of Africa Famine Puts 11 Million People at Risk

July 29, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the growing desperation in the Horn of Africa.

More than 11 million people are at risk from hunger in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Somalia is the worst-hit by famine, drought and a civil war with Islamic militants. Nearly half-a-million refugees have left Somalia to go to Kenya. Most are headed to the Dadaab camp just inside the border.

We begin with a report from Martin Geissler of Independent Television News. He’s spent a week reporting from the camp.

And a warning: Some of the images are distressing.

MARTIN GEISSLER: The patients just keep on arriving. There is no weekend for the staff at Hagadera’s children’s unit. Time here is measured in bed space.

Today, as ever, the ward is packed, but the doctors are happy. Two of the babies causing most concern are improving. When Manaj was admitted on Monday, he was close to death. At seven months old, he weighed just 6.5 pounds. Five days on, he’s improving, still weak and still frail, but still alive.

MAN: Surviving nearly a week. We have also given him the best of care so far.

MARTIN GEISSLER: He’s had quite a week, hasn’t he?

MAN: Yes, quite a week. Yes, that’s great.

MARTIN GEISSLER: At the start of the week, 3-year-old Aden was struggling, too. He wasn’t responding to treatment. Doctors feared the worst. Now he’s eating solid food, a huge step in the right direction.

ABDILE BRAHAM YERE, father (through translator): It’s been a dreadful time. I didn’t know if my child would live or die. His mother’s dead, but I will do my best to look after him. I’m not going home, though. I would rather die in Kenya than try to live in Somalia again.

MARTIN GEISSLER: Abdi Rachman, though, is not doing so well. Admitted yesterday with severe malnutrition, he developed hypothermia over night.

The camp that feeds the hospital is already overcrowded, and almost 1,500 more Somali refugees arrive here every day. The staff at the clinic are bracing themselves.

DR. MILHIA KADER, Hagadera Hospital: When you look at the weather, it’s about to rain. That comes with other dangers: communicable diseases like cholera. Right now, we’re in the midst of a measles outbreak. So with more people coming into a camp that’s already bursting at its seams, all this, I mean, it’s a very precarious situation for us here in Hagadera.

MARTIN GEISSLER: This is the equipment doctors used to bring little Manaj here back from the brink. According to hospital supply lists, it costs under a pound.

Now, clearly there’s more to fighting off a disaster than just a syringe and a drip. There’s staff, transport, food, shelter to pay for on a massive scale for a long time. But it’s proof, if proof were needed, that every little helps.

They’re setting up a tent this evening to cope with the overspill of children. It’s far from ideal, but needs must — the pressures here grow hand in hand with this crisis. And, sadly, there’s no letup in sight.