Ethiopia refugee camp child death rates 'alarming' - UN

A Somali boy refugee is vaccinated against measles
Image caption A mass vaccination programme against measles is being extended

Death rates are at "alarming levels" at a refugee camp in Ethiopia, where on average 10 children aged under five die each day, the UN has said.

It said high child mortality levels had been compounded by a suspected measles outbreak at the 25,000-capacity Kobe camp. Children are now vaccinated.

Most of the refugees have fled conflict and famine in rural parts of Somalia.

Some 12 million people across East Africa have been affected by the region's worst drought for 60 years.

Kobe is part of south-east Ethiopia's Dollo-Ado complex of refugee camps, which houses about 121,000 people in total and continues to receive 200 to 250 new arrivals each day.

Measles is being blamed for 11 deaths, with 150 suspected cases recorded across the complex's four sites.

Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said: "Death rates have reached alarming levels among new arrivals.

"The combination of disease and malnutrition is what has caused similar death rates in previous famine crises in the region."

Desperate need

Extended drought is causing a severe food crisis in the Horn of Africa, which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. Weather conditions over the Pacific means the rains have failed for two seasons and are unlikely to return until October.
An estimated 12 million people in the region are affected by the drought. The UN has declared a famine in six areas of southern Somalia, where it says 750,000 people could die in the coming months in the absence of adequate response.
The humanitarian problem is made worse by conflicts. Militants had lifted a ban on aid agencies operating in parts of southern Somalia, but have since accused Western groups of exaggerating the scale of the crisis and again limited access.
Since the beginning of 2011, around 15,000 Somalis each month have fled into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia looking for food and water. The refugee camp at Dadaab, in Kenya, has been overwhelmed by more than 420,000 people.
Farmers unable to meet their basic food costs are abandoning their herds. High cereal and fuel prices had already forced them to sell many animals before the drought and their smaller herds are now unprofitable or dying.
The refugee problem may have been preventable. However, violent conflict in the region has deterred international investment in long-term development programmes, which could have reduced the effects of the drought.
Development aid would focus on reducing deforestation, topsoil erosion and overgrazing and improving water conservation. New roads and infrastructure for markets would help farmers increase their profits.
The result of climate conditions, conflict and lack of investment is that millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are currently existing on food rations in what is said to be East Africa's worst drought for 60 years.
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The agency said it had completed a mass vaccination campaign for children aged six months to 15 at Kobe and will now continue the programme at the other sites.

Somalia has been the country worst hit by the drought, with tens of thousands of people fleeing to the capital, Mogadishu, controlled by the weak interim government, or to refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia

The UN has declared five famine zones in Somalia, where an estimated 3.2 million people are in need of immediate life-saving assistance.

Delivering aid has proven difficult because most of the famine-affected areas are controlled by the Islamist insurgent group, al-Shabab, which has been reluctant to co-operate with international agencies.

Somalia has been wracked by conflict for the last 20 years since the fall of Siad Barre's government.

The UN said earlier this month that aid was only reaching 20% of the Somalis who needed it.

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