Somali mother sends children back to famine as camps overflow

DOLO ADO, Ethiopia Sat Aug 6, 2011 4:55am EDT

A newly arrived Somali refugee collects non-consumable welfare items from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) compound at Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border August 3, 2011. REUTERS/Daud Yussuf

A newly arrived Somali refugee collects non-consumable welfare items from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) compound at Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, near the Kenya-Somalia border August 3, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Daud Yussuf

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DOLO ADO, Ethiopia (Reuters) - When Somali mother Eblah Sheikh Aden gathered her seven children and set off walking for Ethiopia to find food, she never imagined she would end up sending some of her brood back into the heart of famine.

But that's just what the 35-year-old did to four of them when she realized they were not going to get fed in time at one of the Horn of Africa's overflowing refugee camps -- swelled by a deadly mixture of drought, war and bored donors.

"They were extremely sick and there wasn't food here," she told Reuters in the Kobe Camp in Ethiopia. "I couldn't watch them die and had to make a decision."

It took Eblah two days to walk to the camp but another nine days for her to be registered to stay, such are the numbers of sick and hungry streaming in.

Now that she has managed to register her family, she says she hopes her husband will bring the four children back to the camp soon.

The United Nations says about 3.6 million people are now at risk of starvation in Somalia and about 12 million people across the Horn of Africa region, including in Ethiopia and Kenya.

When trucks loaded up with food descend on the sprawling Kobe complex they leave both a swirl of dust and a trail of people in their wake, as dozens of refugees jostle for space to grab that day's rations.

This week, as aid workers and police scattered a crowd to maintain order, 68-year-old Hasano Abderahman cast a lonely and confused figure amid the boisterous hungry, scurrying with a worried look on his face past queues, tents and shacks trying to find somewhere to bury his baby.

"We had taken Addo to the clinic but he never recovered," said Hasano, who had fled southern Somalia with his wife and his one month-old son. "I'm now looking for space to bury him," he said, nearly an hour after Addo died from severe malnutrition.

One aid worker told Reuters the fate of Addo was common in the area's refugee camps, and said that the majority of children were suffering from severe malnutrition.

"The mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. It's very alarming," he said. The figures are even more alarming among those dwelling in the scrubs awaiting registration for several days, he added.

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