DADAAB, Kenya — Faduma Sakow Abdullahi and her five children tried to escape starvation in Somalia by journeying to a Kenyan refugee camp. Only one day before they reached their destination, her 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son died of exhaustion and hunger.
At first the 29-year-old widow thought the two were merely sleeping when they wouldn’t get up after a brief rest. She had to leave their bodies under a tree, unburied, so she could push on with her baby, 2-year-old and 3-year-old.
She saw more than 20 other children dead or unconscious abandoned on the roadside. Eventually a passing car rescued the rest of her family from what could have been death.
“I never thought I would live to see this horror,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks as she described the 37-day trek to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.
Tens of thousands of Somalis have watched their land dry up after years without rain. Then the livestock died. Finally all the food ran out. Now they are making the perilous journey over parched earth to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, regions that also have been hit hard by drought.
The U.N. expects at least 10 million people will need food aid, and a U.S. aid official said Monday he believes the situation in Ethiopia is even worse than the government acknowledges.
The Ethiopian government announced Monday that 4.5 million people need food aid there, 40 percent more than last year. Jason Frasier, mission director of USAID in Ethiopia, the U.S. government aid arm, suggested that Ethiopia might even be undercounting those who need help.
Aid agencies are appealing for more than $100 million in emergency funding while warning of dire consequences if help does not arrive.
Dadaab was originally built for 90,000 people; more than 382,000 are now here. People die here every day, though no one can provide a reliable estimate of the drought deaths.
“I must say that I visited many refugee camps in the world. I have never seen people coming in such a desperate situation,” the head of U.N.’s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, said Sunday while visiting the new arrivals area.