By Najwa Mekki
DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti, 24 August 2011 – In what looks like a rubbish dump off of the main road southwest of the capital city Djibouti, a few hundred families have set-up makeshift tukuls and call them home. They have no water, no toilets, no electricity, and barely any hope.
The place is called Bouldougo – the Somali word meaning ‘knocked out’. Some have been here for years, others just arrived. Some have fled drought, others conflict. They come from Ethiopia, Somalia and interior regions of Djibouti.
Poverty, hardship and struggle
Moumina Ismael, originally from Somalia but born and raised in Ethiopia, fled to Bouldougo a year ago with her mother, her husband and their four children after the drought killed the last of their cattle.
Her older children, ages five and six, go to a Koranic school and spend the rest of their time playing in the camp. Her four-year-old is too stunted to walk and her youngest, Aboubaker, cries at the sight of strangers. Moumina’s husband is out of work and they live on whatever little jobs he occasionally gets.
There are at least 400 families in the camp, each with three to four children on average. All have the same story: A life of poverty, hardship and struggle. And yet, even the little they have now is better than what they left behind.
“I prefer to be here,” said Amina Ali, a mother of four whose husband died while she was pregnant with their youngest child. “After my cattle in Ethiopia died, I have nothing to go back to.”
Amina and her children arrived to Bouldougo just three months ago. The trip took them eight days. She walked while her children took turns riding a donkey. With her youngest son tied to a sling on her back all day long, Amina now ekes a living fetching wood and selling it, as the need for wood has increased with the increase in fuel prices.
Children in Bouldougo grow up too soon. At nine, Mokou Abdi is already taking care of five younger siblings while her mother works in the market in Djibouti City. Her youngest brother Sadale is barely a year old.
For a country like a Djibouti, heavily dependent on food imports, the increase in food and fuel prices, combined with recurrent drought and chronic water shortages, has caused thousands of vulnerable people to sink even further into poverty.
Children are the most affected. One out of five is malnourished, one third is underweight and, according to the latest national estimates, almost half are stunted.
UNICEF is stepping up its response to the crisis, working to meet increasing needs in water and therapeutic food – particularly in the worst affected areas. Funding remains an issue, however, for out of the $5.4 million needed to respond to the emergency, UNICEF has received only $2.9 million. More is needed to make sure that the immediate, but also long-term, needs of children in Djibouti are met.
Back in Bouldougo, UNICEF began delivering safe drinking water this week. A small, but vital, relief in Djibouti’s scorching August heat.