Perhaps because of its small size, Djibouti has received scant attention in media coverage of the current crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The former French colony, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, has a population of only 820,000 people, but also faces significant problems. The fourth consecutive year of drought has led to massive loss of livestock, the destruction of crops and increased malnutrition.
There has been an increased migration of pastoralists to the capital, Djibouti, where the urban slum of Balbala has become a small city in its own right.
The recurring droughts have affected 120,000 people, one in eight of the population. According to the UN, pastoralists have lost 70-80% of their livestock, while food prices have risen 50%.
“Loss of income due to drought combined with the food price crisis has forced vulnerable households to allocate a larger share of their income to purchase food at the expense of health and education,” says the UN.
The worsening security situation in south-central Somalia has compounded problems for the tiny state, host to the only US military base in Africa. There has been a large influx of refugees at the al Addeh refugee camp, whose number is estimated to be 15,000 and growing. This is causing further concern for food security and safe water supply.
“The country’s needs are very urgent, although not on the same scale as those of its neighbours,” said Katherine Roux, who was in Djibouti just over a week ago for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Although it’s a small country, the government struggles to reach some rural communities, which feel like they are at the end of the world.”
As an example of an inaccessible rural commmunity, Roux, based in Nairobi, cites Garabtisan village, where some people have only 40 litres of water for a period of two to three days to support the needs of an entire family.
“The nearest water source requires that women walk the distance of 23km, wrote Roux on a recent blog, “or they wait for water delivery from the military stationed nearby. But with a community of 1,500 people, it is simply impossible for the military to adequately service the needs of Garabtisan village without support.”
Sandra Hu, just back from the country as part of an assessment team for the Red Cross/Red Crescent, said the drought and the lack of access in remote areas to basic services such as health meant the situation was “chronic”. She also pointed out that high food prices had reduced remittances sent from urban centres.
“Most of the 120,000 people in need are in the north-west and south-west regions where the lack of water is a major problem,” said Hu, who has been working on a programme to promote micro-loans, targeting women.
Loans have been made to about 950 households, mostly in urban areas to people selling bread, preparing breakfasts and other small catering businesses.
The UN drought appeal for Djibouti has raised $17.4m of a total of $33.3m needed, leaving a shortfall of $15.9m. With funding running at 52% of met needs, Djibouti actually comes second only to Kenya (54%). Ethiopia, with unmet funding needs of 62.4%, is the country that badly needs more international aid.
Some of the major UN agencies are present in Djibouti. The World Food Programme will use some $1.1m to provide emergency food aid for 61,000 people in rural areas. About $1m has been allocated to Unicef, the UN agency for children, for acute malnutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has received nearly $300,000 to rehabilitate water supplies for 8,000 families and their livestock. The World Health Organisation will use some $250,000 to provide mobile health units in rural areas and some $100,000 has been allocated to the UN Population Fund for the reduction of maternal and neonatal mortality. The UN refugee agency has received funds for supplementary food items and water purification equipment at al Addeh refugee camp.