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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

We begin this hour in the horn of Africa, where a crippling drought means about 11 million people are not getting enough to eat. It's the worst drought there in decades, and things are worst in Somalia. Thousands of Somalis are crossing into Kenya, in search of shelter, food and medicine.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from the giant Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: I've come to what are called the spontaneous settlements at one of the Dadaab camps. It's called Dagahaley. And for miles on end you see this inhospitable land. Sand. The wind is blowing furiously here and many of the people are living out in the open. There's very little shelter. As far as the eye can see, it's a tented town here, fragile structures, homes made out of branches of trees, covered over in plastic sheeting. And most of the people here are children and women. Some have come as recently as one or two days ago. Although they're still hungry, they say life is better here than it is in Somalia, because there's peace in Kenya.

Ms. SARUURO ADEN: (Through translator) My name is Saruuro Aden. I came from Dunsoor. I have four children. Famine, drought, hunger, as well as conflict, all added up, has forced us to leave Dunsoor. I have been walking for 10 days. I encountered lots of problems on the way, including an attack. All the money I had, all the clothes, everything was taken away from. It was at night. It was dark. We don't know who the attackers were but they robbed us of everything that we had. They only took our personal effects but none of us was sexually assaulted. We have no food, we have no shelter. We have no clothes. You can see we've just been out there in the open, in the wind. We need water, we need life.

QUIST-ARCTON: These are just some of the dangers facing refugees from Somalia as they flee war and drought and now famine.

Dadaab settlement, which is run by the UN refugee agency UNACR, was built 20 years ago in Kenya to house 90,000 people when the conflict in Somalia began. That number has now swelled to almost 400,000, with about a thousand Somalis continuing to arrive each day.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

QUIST-ARCTON: And many of the women have trekked with severely malnourished children.

Dr. HUMPHREY MUSYOKA (International Rescue Committee): Just to highlight, because of the influx of the new arrivals, we have had a fourfold increase in cases admitted for severe malnutrition, fourfold increase from the initial crew that we just had, the old refugees in the system. Yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Dr. Humphrey Musyoka works at the U.S. aid agency International Rescue Committee's field hospital in Hagadera camp.

Dr. MUSYOKA: This leaves the children quite vulnerable, especially in a situation where we - food security is not guaranteed. We have seen children die and maybe over the last week or so two to three children. These are the very severely ill children and the main contributing factor is of the late arrival.

Ms. HAWA HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Hawa Hassan is about 80 years old. Her grandson, three-year-old Adan Abdon, is one of her son's children. She's cradling her grandson in her arms on the hospital bed. With large, limpid eyes, it's clear Adan is suffering from acute malnutrition with the telltale oversized head on his wasted, wizened body. Adan's mother died of hunger, says his grandmother, as they walked for 30 days from southern Somalia.

Ms. HASSAN: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: All our animals died in the drought, she says. So that was the end of our livelihood. We had to leave Somalia and walk to Kenya with my grandchildren, including Adan, and as you can see, he's so very, very sick.

Mr. ABUBAKAR MOHAMED (Doctors Without Borders): The groups that we are receiving now today are the groups that were left behind after the anarchy of Somalia civil strife.

QUIST-ARCTON: Across town, in another hospital run by the emergency medical charity, MSF, Doctors Without Borders, at Dagahaley Camp, the deputy field coordinator, Abubakar Mohamed, laments the plight of the new arrivals. Himself a Kenyan-Somali, Mohamed has been working at the refugee settlement since the 1990s.

Mr. MOHAMED: Then they had no business in politics, but today they are the victims of natural calamities like famine. They have no choice. So unlike in the other time, it was politics, game which was played. So it's a different scenario what we are in today. Innocent people who are suffering, not politicians, not the armies, not military. Real human beings, farmers, nomads, yeah? Who have had tough time in Somalia.

QUIST-ARCTON: Kenya's government is under pressure to open an additional camp to house some of the recent influx of Somalis. But the Kenyan authorities argue the refugees should be held on the Somali side of the border. Kenya says it fears members of the powerful anti-Western al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab militia group, which controls large parts of Somalia, may cross into Kenya and spread terrorism here.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dadaab refugee settlement, northeastern Kenya.

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