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Field Report: Emergency Relief Arrives in Kenya

  • February 1, 2008

Preparing to Send Second Shipment of Essential Medicines and Medical Supplies

In response to the upheaval following the disputed results from the December elections, AmeriCares has sent 3 tons of medicines and medical supplies to Kenya. AmeriCares aid worker Jonathan Hodgdon was on the scene to assess the health care needs of the displaced population and monitor the delivery of our emergency shipment of medicines and medical supplies, as well as determine further medical needs that AmeriCares can help address.

Pallets are unloaded at the Jomo
Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi

Day 1 (Jan 22): I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on Tuesday night. The city was calm and the road from the airport to the hotel was well lit by rows of closely spaced streetlights.  We passed by Uruhu Park and Jamhuri Park where 3,000 or more families displaced by the current conflict had camped out since the first week of January, but both parks are empty now.  Hotel occupancy rates are below 40% in Nairobi since January 1st and the ripple effects on the business sector (restaurants, car rentals, tour operators, etc.) are noticeable.

Day 2 (Jan 23): Yesterday, I visited Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum community and one of the largest in all of Africa (along with Soweto) with a population of about 2 million.  Kibera was calm yesterday after making news in the past two weeks for street clashes with the Kenyan police.  At the prefab clinic that I visited, about 80 mothers and children who were displaced or otherwise affected by the conflict showed up to receive dry food rations and free TB tests. 

Displaced Kenyans headed for the camp
at Eldoret

This afternoon, I fly out to Eldoret in western Kenya in hopes of being able to visit some of the larger camps that have been set up for the internally displaced persons (IDPs).  The largest camp in Eldoret is at the town’s fairgrounds where 13,000 IDPs are being assisted by UNHCR, the Kenyan Red Cross, and a host of NGOs.

BACKGROUND ON ELDORET:  Like Denver, the town of Eldoret, Kenya, sits one mile above sea level and is considerably cooler temperature-wise than Nairobi.  The town is about a two hour’s drive from Nakuru in normal times, a four hour’s drive during the present time. Most of Eldoret’s residents are from the Calenjin tribe, while 99% of the IDPs in all of the camps are Kikuyus.  In Eldoret, it is the Calenjin who are attacking the Kikuyus while in Kisumu, it is the Luos who are attacking the Kikuyus.  Tensions and unrest in Nakuru tends to fuel tensions in Eldoret, while tensions in Kisumu tends to fuel tensions in Kakamega.  Eldoret is one of the four key flashpoints of the ongoing conflict along with Nakuru, Kisumu and Molo.  The tourist areas are mostly free from disturbances, though Mombasa is a ghost town now with its hotels empty.

ELDORET ARRIVAL & SECURITY:   As our plane circled Eldoret in preparation for landing, I counted at least 50 farmhouses burning in the hills surrounding Eldoret.  One here, one there, with none of them grouped together.  Eldoret at the moment is a town in a bubble, with peace and calm inside the town and unrest all around the town.  Relief teams need to check every morning with UN security to see which roads are open and which roads are closed.  Burning of houses is happening every night around Eldoret but not inside the town itself, so new IDPs are arriving continuously. And, as violence heats up in Nakuru and Burnt Forest, the IDPs flee towards Eldoret to the relative safety of the “bubble”.  The biggest security risk associated with Eldoret is that the drive from the airport is quite far and passes directed by the entrance to the largest IDP camp, the Eldoret Fairgrounds.  If there is any disturbance at this intersection, Eldoret town will be cut off from its own airport.

The fairgrounds at Eldoret

VISIT TO ELDORET FAIRGROUNDS IDP CAMP:  The Eldoret fairgrounds is currently home to 13,500 IDPs housed in four tented sub-camps (A, B, C, and D).  The tents were supplied by UNHCR but the camp is managed by the Kenyan Red Cross.   Health services are provided by three nurses from the Ministry of Health with help from a mobile KRC team that visits every two or three days.  The health post sees 200 patients per day and the most common ailments are: malaria, the number of IDPs in the Rift Valley has been verified by the assessment team to be between 70,000 and 80,000.   The camps water supply is good but the pressure is low, so it takes a long time to fill one bucket. The population of the camp grew in the past 48 hours from 10, 200 to 13,500 according to the staff of the Kenyan Red Cross.  There are at least six other IDP camps around Kenya like the Eldoret Fairgrounds, with a resident population in excess of 10,000 and another seven camps with IDP populations between 5,000 and 10,000.  Unlike many post-conflict emergencies, the camps are attended to by the UN, Red Cross and NGOs only during the day.  The reason for this is that the conflict here is still ongoing, so it is not safe for any agencies to remain at the camps overnight.

VISIT TO MUNYAKA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IDP CAMP:  This church compound is located in the village of Munyaka about 2 kilometers outside of Eldoret town.  As of today, 4,662 IDPs are registered at this camp, of which about 1,000 are living on the church’s premises. At the time of our visit, the church compound was simply overrun by so many IDPs, but the food distributions were well organized and everyone received their food rations in an orderly fashion.