NAIROBI - August 23 - Major funding cuts by the international community over the last six months have dramatically increased tensions among the 140,000 refugees, the majority of whom are Somalis, living in the Dadaab camps in the North Eastern province of Kenya. As a result of the cuts, agencies like CARE have had to reduce a number of services, including shelter and water supply. In addition, programs designed to maintain basic sanitation standards and meet the educational needs of children and youths have also been scaled down.
"These cuts have come at a critical time, with renewed conflict in Somalia between the interim government, warlords and the Islamic courts," says Mohammed Qazilbash, senior program manager for CARE in Kenya. "Since January of 2006, more than 20,000 new arrivals have come to the Dadaab refugee camps. U.N. agencies estimate that even under a best-case scenario, there could be up to 50,000 new arrivals by the end of 2006. This means that we may be planning for an additional 30,000 people to arrive in the camps by the end of the year, a situation that will make it extremely challenging for agencies to meet the basic needs of all those seeking refuge."
Over the last year, there has been a significant reduction in donor funding for Dadaab. For instance, UNHCR has announced that its 2006 budget would be cut by more than 20 percent compared to the approved budget for 2005. The World Food Program is seeking additional funding for the new wave of refugees, otherwise rations may have to be cut once again. At the same time, the Bureau for Population, Refugee and Migration at USAID cut its 2006 budget for Dadaab by 23 percent compared to 2005.
"Because our work puts us on the front line, we have experienced firsthand the growing anger within the refugee population due to inadequate food supplies and a halting of the distribution of essential non-food items such as blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen utensils," explains Bud Crandall, country director for CARE in Kenya.
A major concern for CARE is that youth, who now constitute 49 percent of the refugee population in Dadaab, have very limited opportunities in areas like vocational training, skill enhancement, higher education and employment. "A large number of idle youth are a time bomb, especially in a crowded situation like Dadaab," says Qazilbash. "In this context there is a high risk of anti-social behavior such as drug abuse, sexual violence, crime and the risk of spreading HIV and AIDS. There is also a chance that more youth will join militia groups in Somalia."
In the three Dadaab refugee camps, CARE works with the World Food Program to organize and oversee the twice-monthly food distributions to the registered refugee population. In addition to basic relief operations, CARE has been spearheading hygiene and health promotion campaigns, a much-needed awareness-raising exercise given the high concentration of people living in the camps.
However, due to funding cuts, the agency can no longer conduct these activities, and sanitation conditions in the camps are deteriorating at an alarming rate, especially in relation to solid waste management. CARE staff members at the camps say that the possibility of a disease outbreak is a real and growing danger. With the reduced levels of funding, CARE has had to prioritize food and water distributions, often at the cost of programming focused on community empowerment and development.
In addition, gains made over the past decade on increasing school enrollment are now eroding. Successful educational campaigns in the past years have led to an increase in the enrollment levels of pupils in the 17 primary schools and three secondary schools in the Dadaab refugee camps. This increase, however, has outpaced the existing educational infrastructure, leading to a glaring gap between the number of pupils in school and the number of teachers, classes and latrines. The schools text books and other teaching aids are also insufficient.
As a coping strategy, all 17 CARE-managed primary schools are now running double shifts. "This response, however, is highly inadequate," says Qazilbash. "If we stand by the U.N. Charter on Human Rights, which declares education as a fundamental right for all, including refugees, we are shortchanging everyone by cutting corners. If the Dadaab time bomb explodes, lack of funding will be a lame excuse for the international community to fall back on."