Campaign cuts malnutrition rates in Kenya refugee camps to lowest levels in years

Published on 13 November 2007

Three United Nations agencies have praised the international community for its support to help turn around a devastating malnutrition crisis in northern Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Three United Nations agencies have praised the international community for its support to help turn around a devastating malnutrition crisis in northern Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Real inroads into the scourge of malnutrition are making a genuine difference to young children and their mothers

WFP Kenya Country Director Burkard Oberle

The gains made in Dadaab and Kakuma are the result of a package of measures including a more regular supply of culturally acceptable foods, as well as firewood, and the provision of energy-saving cooking stoves and soap to ensure that refugees are not compelled to sell a portion of their food to buy these basic items.

Continued support vital

But the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that continued support was vital if the gains were not to be quickly lost.

“Real inroads into the scourge of malnutrition are making a genuine difference to young children and their mothers,” said WFP Kenya Country Director Burkard Oberle.

“It would be criminal to take our foot off the pedal now simply because we can’t afford to keep going. These people need more support, not less,” he said.

Dramatic drop

Acute malnutrition rates among children under the age of 5 in the three refugee camps at Dadaab have dropped dramatically from 22.2 percent last year to under 13 percent, according to a recent survey.

Initial results from a survey in camps at Kakuma indicate a similar downward trend.

Crucially, these figures are now below the emergency threshold of 15 percent. They are also the lowest rates recorded since 2000.

Anaemia

However, malnutrition levels remain serious. Anaemia is even more worrying, with rates amongst children reaching 81.4 percent – a slight increase on previous figures.

An inter-agency initiative is addressing this through the provision of double-fortified salt in Dadaab and a pilot project supplying micronutrient-rich ‘sprinkles’ in Kakuma.

“These problems are not going away. It is absolutely essential that we are able to maintain a high level of assistance for the refugees, who entirely depend on outside assistance,” said Eddie Gedalof, UNHCR’s Acting Representative in Kenya.

Full rations

WFP has maintained full food rations in the camps in recent months as well, ensuring the basic 2,100 kilocalorie daily requirement per refugee and a basic, balanced diet.

Also thanks to donor support, supplementary and complementary feeding has been expanded, health facilities are better staffed to fight the constant threat of malaria and other diseases and refugees have a good supply of water.

“Our experience shows that we should not celebrate such short-term success, but redouble our efforts to ensure the work continues to have such a positive impact,” said UNICEF Country Representative in Kenya Olivia Yambi.

Survey results

The recent nutrition survey stressed it was essential to maintain the provision of wheat flour as the preferred staple of the refugees, to continue to provide supplementary micronutrient-rich food and to provide basic non-food items such as soap on a more regular basis.

Further progress is necessary in educating mothers on best child feeding practices, in addition to more general health education in the camps.