28 April 2006

Special Humanitarian Envoy Visits Drought Affected Djibouti

DJIBOUTI/NEW YORK, 27 April (OCHA) -- Kjell Magne Bondevik, United Nations Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, saw the human cost of Djibouti's drought today, during a visit to a hospital treating malnourished children.

In Djibouti, on the second leg of his five-nation mission to the Horn of Africa, Mr. Bondevik visited the Government-run Balbala Hospital, on the outskirts of Djibouti City, where approximately 70 severely malnourished children are treated per day.  "Malnourished children are a direct consequence of the drought affecting this country.  Treating them, and reducing the number in the future, must be a priority for the Government and humanitarian community through development programmes," noted Mr. Bondevik, during his visit.

Balbala Hospital is one of the few operational therapeutic feeding centres in the country.  "Last month, the hospital received supplies to treat these children; before this we had nothing and the mortality level was very high.  On average, one child was dying every day," said Dr. Mahdi Ali, National Nutritional Coordinator for the Government of Djibouti.

During his one-day visit, the Special Humanitarian Envoy also met the President of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guellen, as well as key Government ministers, representatives of donor countries, the United Nations country team, and the Executive Secretary of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Considered a neglected emergency, Djibouti is now suffering its fourth consecutive year of drought.  Approximately 150,000 people are at risk.  Of this number, 70,000 people have been directly affected and are receiving food aid.  The loss of livestock ranges from 20 to 80 per cent and malnutrition have reached critical levels.

The country has reached a point, at which coping mechanisms are seriously eroded, due to the cumulative effect of recurrent drought.  The drought should not be viewed in the context of poor rainfall alone, but in a wider context of poverty and the need to strengthen local and national coping mechanisms that have been seriously eroded over the past several years, and which will not be redressed even with the recent rains.

"Because Djibouti is a small State, there is always the danger that it can be forgotten by the international community, and so, it is one of my tasks to ensure Djibouti is not forgotten," said Mr. Bondevik.

The Special Envoy also discussed, with the Government, the importance of prioritizing long-term development solutions to food security and water management to reduce the vulnerability of its populations to recurrent drought situations.  "The vulnerability is intricately linked to the general level of poverty and exacerbated by capacity constraints of Government institutions to provide basic services at local levels.  Today, I saw firsthand the desperate living conditions that face 42 per cent of the population who live below the poverty threshold," concluded the Special Humanitarian Envoy.

Djibouti is part of the regional appeal for the Horn of Africa that is appealing for $426 million to support the needs of more than 8 million people.  Djibouti is appealing for $9 million, of which less than $2 million has been secured, to date.  The funds that have been received come from emergency grants from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

For further information, please call:  Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 5126, mobile +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, +41 22 917 2653, mobile, +41 79 473 4570.

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