Tuesday, February 10
I slept under a bed net last night. It’s not the first time I have done so, but it somehow seemed so perfect, knowing that while I was sleeping under this blue net within the UNHCR compound in Dadaab, Kenya, women and children in the Ifo Refugee Camp were doing the very same.
On Monday we arrived in Dadaab which is one of, if not the, largest refugee camps in Africa. Dadaab is located in what seems to be a no-man’s-land about an hour’s flight northeast of Nairobi, Kenya. We’re only about 80km from the border to Somalia, from where thousands of refugees are streaming each month, generally by foot.
The situation in Dadaab is difficult to say the least. Together the three refugee camps that make up Dadaab – Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley – hold nearly 250,000 people. A quarter of a million people on land that should hold only 90,000. There are no more plots to give the new arrivals, which are coming at the rate of 500 to 600 per week. There is less and less water to go around. And serious problems around sanitation have caused a recent cholera outbreak in one of the camps – Hagadera.
But the fight against malaria is making ground here. Targeted bed net distributions and indoor residual spraying in the mud brick homes over the last two years have gone a long way to preventing malaria outbreaks following the rainy seasons. And the approach of UNHCR and its partners, including CARE, the International Rescue Committee and GTZ, is multi-faceted – from targeting pregnant mothers during their ante-natal care visits to the health posts, to house to house visits by community health workers.
As we walked from home to home in Ifo under the scorching sun Monday afternoon, I met with several women who welcomed me into their modest homes. Sahar Abdi is 36 years old with five children. The youngest, the 10-month-old, was sick, coughing in his mother’s arms. Sahar told me she left Somalia in 1992 with the three children she had at the time. As soon as I asked her why she left Somalia I wished I could take it back. Sahar explained, rather soberly – that her husband had been killed and so she fled.
Taking little with her aside from her three children, she arrived in Ifo and has been here ever since -17 years. It is incredible. She has a mud brick house, no more than 15 feet by 10 feet, and has since remarried and had two more children, including the coughing baby in her hands.
Sahar was just one of mothers and vulnerable people, including the very sick, who received nets in Ifo on Monday afternoon. In fact, thanks to Nothing But Nets supporters and partners, there are now enough nets to cover the camps in Dadaab. And so I imagine Sahar and I both slept under our bed nets last night. And while I return home in a few days, Sahar will continue to sleep under her net. She made that promise!