An Interview with Christopher Tidey

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July 27, 2011
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Could you help us comprehend the scale of the emergency at Dadaab refugee camp?  How does it differ from other refugee camps you have worked at?

Christopher Tidey: This is a massive humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa region. More than 2.2 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished, with 780,000 at risk of imminent death. The refugee camps at Dadaab have swelled by more than 60,000 over the past two months, with the refugee population now at more than 400,000. Between 1,000 and 1,500 are arriving at Dadaab daily.

In any emergency children are the most vulnerable, but in this crisis, at least 80 per cent of the arriving refugees are women and children. I have never seen a food security crisis as severe as this, and if the rains do not come again this year, the situation will only worsen.

The most difficult part, for me, is seeing the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Many of these children do not even have the energy to hold their heads up, to breast feed, or even to smile. I met a three-year-old boy in the hospital this week who could no longer swallow and weighed just five kilos. No child should have to experience this, let alone hundreds of thousands.

For you, what are the underlying structural problems that have brought about such devastation?

Tidey

CT: This crisis has been caused by three main factors: 1) prolonged drought, 2) protracted conflict and political instability in Somalia, and 3) a rise in global food prices. Each of these would be a problem on its own, but collectively, they constitute a humanitarian emergency of massive proportions.

Ultimately, the solution lies in sustained commitment from the international community to provide help to the region. We have seen this before.

What sort of "coordination" improvements were achieved at the Rome Conference on Monday?

CT: Rome represented a coming together of the international community in a renewed commitment to tackling the crisis. Coordination aside, this is ultimately going to come down to sustained financial support from international donors to the agencies and INGOs that are active on the ground. What is required is a massive scale up of the humanitarian response along with the requisite funding to sustain it. UNICEF alone requires $300M for our response in the region over the next six months.

Canada recently pledged $50M in emergency assistance to Somalia via the UN World Food Programme and the UNHCR. Is this the best way for Canadians to address the tragedy in Somalia?

CT: The  Canadian government's contribution to the WFP is most welcome and greatly appreciated. There are many ways in which Canadians can support ongoing relief efforts. I would, however, recommend that Canadians wishing to donate funds first ensure that the organization they choose to support is present on the ground with the capacity to respond.