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Malnutrition Amongst Children in Kenya

By Henry Beglinger

Malnutrition and food insecurity are quickly rising in major refugee camps in Kenya. Dagahaley, a camp within the Dadaab refugee complex, originally opened to aid those fleeing the Somalian civil war in the 1990s – whose population numbers around 200,000 – hosts about 90,000 people from through the Horn of Africa, making it one of the largest in the world.

According to Doctors without Borders, “MSF teams treated a record 12,007 patients – an overwhelming majority of whom were children – in our paediatric ward and inpatient therapeutic feeding centre in Dagahaley. The figure represents a 33% increase from the preceding year. Consistent with the alarming surge in child admissions”.

"Like many worsening humanitarian issues, intercommunal conflict and disease hamper the speed and efficiency in which aid can be provided."

As Kenya continues to battle sparse rains and withering crops, these numbers will continue to grow. The problem at hand now is not only treating those suffering from malnutrition, child or not, but working to prevent further the factors that contribute to prolonged hunger.

Aid organizations face an uphill fight in this endeavor for a variety of reasons. Like many worsening humanitarian issues, intercommunal conflict and disease hamper the speed and efficiency in which aid can be provided.

An increase in cases of cholera throughout the complex have raised concern amongst those on the ground. While many camps battle sporadic bouts, this one is significant because of its longevity. Furthermore, a much-anticipated rainy season is being forecasted as much less than previously predicted.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network states, “People travel three to 17 kilometers to access water, while livestock trek 10 to 33 kilometers due to limited water access. Livestock milk production, a key source of food and income, remains well below normal”.

The prospect of feeding hundreds of thousands of people is a daunting one, and one that aid organizations from MSF to UNICEF are struggling with, “In Kenya, more than a quarter of children under the age of five, or two million children, have stunted growth. Stunting is the most frequent form of under-nutrition among young children”.

This promotes a cycle of weakness and death and underdeveloped children will grow into physically and mentally stunted adults that struggle to find work and eventually fall back into the refugee camps in order to survive. These organizations are imploring donors to release desperately needed funds. If these funds do not come sooner rather than later, we will be witnessing a colossal failure of the global community.

The Dadaab complex, despite these dire situations will continue providing a refuge for anyone who seeks it, and with tens of thousands more people projected to flood through its gates, aid organizations will quickly find themselves struggling to keep up. There are now thousands of children in these camps on the verge of death. It is up to the international community to act decisively in order to avert a full blow famine in the Horn of Africa. Without their financial help, this suffering will continue.

"Cartons of PlumpySup and PlumpyNut Ready to Use Therapeutic Food are delivered to a remote nomadic community as part of a Save the Children/UNICEF malnutrition screening programme supported by UK aid in Turkana, northern Kenya"


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