08 AUGUST 2011
Cate Turton manages DFID's programmes to help food-insecure people in Ethiopia. These include providing food and cash transfers to eight million people in exchange for work – aiming to end a dependence on food aid. She is part of the team managing the UK’s response to the current crisis there, and recently visited the camps at Dolo Ado.
"In Somalia and the wider area known as the Horn of Africa, crops have failed, food prices are high and large numbers of livestock have died. The humanitarian crisis that has resulted means thousands of refugees are crossing the border into Ethiopia, fleeing conflict and drought.
Recently, I visited the camps in Dolo Ado, near Ethiopia's border with Somalia – one of the areas where emergency assistance is now being provided to give refugees access to shelter, clean drinking water and treatment for starving children. When I visited, conditions in the camp were appalling, with people surviving with little water, no shelter and in clouds of dust.
People arrive with nothing. They must then camp outside the registration centre to wait their turn to be called to the reception desk. I spoke to a woman who had walked for ten days in searing heat through Somalia to reach Ethiopia with her two children, aged three and six months.
On arrival at the border, one woman I met told me she had to wait three days to register – existing on just one meal a day and living in the open. Her six-month-old daughter was severely malnourished and had TB. This is not unusual at the camp, where one in every two children that arrives is starving. Malnutrition rates are three times the emergency thresholds.
The woman had no idea when she would be able to return to her home or if she will ever see her husband and son, who stayed behind, again.
Medecins Sans Frontieres MSF (Doctors Without Borders) – an independent, humanitarian medical aid organisation – have just opened an emergency health centre at the camp and have been given permission to screen all children for malnutrition on arrival. They are doing an amazing job, delivering treatment programmes in terrible conditions, and are now treating the child.
Arrivals at the camp are continuing at around 2000 a day, and systems and facilities are severely stretched. In response, aid agencies are beginning to scale up their operations: Save the Children US has begun blanket supplementary feeding for all under-fives and the British Red Cross has opened new feeding centres in Bakool, Gedo and the Afgoye corridor.
I am part of a team at DFID Ethiopia, managing the UK's response – this includes providing emergency food aid to 1.3 million people for three months, and a package of support for refugees which will provide lifesaving services and shelter for more than 100,000 refugees.
More aid has arrived in Dolo Ado this week, and one of my colleagues is in the region now, to see where aid is needed most. The really sad fact is that tens of thousands of people have already died. It's a race against time, but emergency food aid is getting through and is saving lives."