Chance encounter keeps death from snatching baby Sahlan

Lucky break ... Somalia refugee Ladhan Waraq lost one of her children to famine, but five-month-old Sahlan was given life-saving treatment after she was discovered by the Herald.
Lucky break ... Somalia refugee Ladhan Waraq lost one of her children to famine, but five-month-old Sahlan was given life-saving treatment after she was discovered by the Herald.

IT DOESN'T take long to find death at Dadaab.

Each time I have walked around the outskirts of the windswept refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border I have met families coping with tragic loss. But Ladhan Waraq's story shows heartbreak and hope can come on the same day.

She lost one of her six children at 9am the day I met her, but our chance encounter meant her severely malnourished baby was getting life-saving treatment by sunset.

Like most of the refugees at Dadaab, Waraq's family left drought-stricken Somalia in search of food. They watched helplessly as more than 100 cattle died and their crops failed.

"We have come to seek assistance from humanitarian organisations," said Waraq. "We had no choice."

But the long walk to Kenya followed by two months on the periphery of the overcrowded camp was too much for her eight-year old daughter, Malyun.

"She had been sick for a long time," said Waraq after returning from her daughter's grave - a mound of red dirt covered with thorn bushes in a makeshift cemetery nearby.

Muhammad Abduli, the grim-faced community leader who took me to meet Waraq, said her daughter was the second child that day to die in his block and the 40th in two months. "This graveyard has filled up and we are starting a new one," he said.

When I asked after Waraq's remaining five children, she went into her tent and brought out her five-month-old daughter, Sahlan Mohamad. Even before the mother revealed her daughter's emaciated body, the pain in Waraq's black eyes showed she was ravaged by sickness and hunger.

Waraq was in danger of losing another child.

An aid worker with us called an ambulance and the mother and daughter were taken to a "stabilisation" ward in a camp hospital, now overflowing with malnourished children.

Mike Sunderland, a spokesman for Save the Children in Dadaab said Waraq's experience highlighted the vulnerability of new arrivals at the camp.

"Step out of a car anywhere in Dadaab and it doesn't take long to find a malnourished child," he said. "Even though the world is coming to realise the scale of this disaster, there are so many people here - and throughout east Africa - who desperately need our help."

I visited Sahlan and her mother the day after they were admitted to hospital and medical staff were happy with the baby's progress. "She slept well last night and did not cry," said Waraq. "It's a long time since that happened.''How to help

Save the Children www.savethechildren.org.au 1800 760 011

Oxfam www.oxfam.org.au 1800 088 110

Plan Australia www.plan.org.au 13 75 26

CARE Australia www.care.org.au 1800 020 046

UNHCR www.unrefugees.org.au 1300 361 288

Act for Peace, National Council of Churches www.actforpeace.org.au 1800 025 101

Medecins Sans Frontieres www.msf.org.au; 1300 13 60 61

UNICEF www.unicef.org.au; 1300 884 233