, DADAAB, Kenya, Jul 27 – Overcrowded refugee camps are now at the risk of disease outbreak owing to strained sanitation facilities.
The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) which is responsible for the sanitation systems in some of the Dadaab camps says that the high numbers of refugees are putting a heavy burden on resources already stretched thin by the existing population.
“The possibility of a disease outbreak is a real and growing danger if the standards of hygiene are not observed and maintained,” noted Sussie Ibutu, Programme Director at NCCK.
The raging famine and increased violence in Somalia has led to a sharp influx of refugees with almost 1,400 new arrivals per day.
“Sanitation conditions in the camps are deteriorating at an alarming rate, especially in relation to solid waste management,” she says.
The fact that the area experiences severe flooding places a certain percentage of the camps in the danger of being flooded in the event of rains, affecting over 100,000 people and threatening a major outbreak of water-borne diseases.
NCCK is an implementing agency of the Nairobi Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and is currently assisting in registration of new refugees besides being responsible for the sanitation systems. This includes latrines constructions. Other activities include provision of information on reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, peace building, measures to curb gender based violence, and support to most at-risk groups
Previous studies reveal a number of significant problems with existing sanitation facilities that contribute to a widespread practice of open defecation and put the camps at high risk of outbreaks of Diarrhoeal disease, as well as compromising the dignity of the camp inhabitants.
Women and children, who constitute over half of the camp population, very rarely access latrines.
“Most latrines are not gender segregated, and it is culturally unacceptable for women to share latrines with men. Children too cannot access due to overcrowding,” says Ms Ibutu.
Camp populations, particularly new arrivals, cannot access sufficient sanitary supplies including soap and latrine cleaning materials.
Ms Ibutu says there is need to avail more sanitation facilities and services in the camps including more latrines and sanitation supplies.
“We call on the support from various fundraising efforts going on so that we can be able to provide more facilities to the vulnerable,” she appeals.
The three camps in Dadaab, Kenya, have housed refugees for over 15 years, starting with the flight of refugees from Somalia in 1991.
Most of the people living in the camps (97 percent) are Somali, though there are also refugees from Sudan, Uganda, the Congo and other countries in conflict. Many have lived in Dadaab for over a decade, unable to return to homes still embroiled in chaos.