Elizabeth Njeri, a social worker at a camp for thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kenya's Central Province, frequently feels powerless, especially when faced with medical and logistical difficulties that can have catastrophic results.
"I watched two children die of pneumonia in my arms; they needed a professional health expert who could administer strong drugs, but I was helpless," Njeri, herself an IDP, who also serves as a medical officer at the Mawingo IDP camp, told IRIN, underlining the camp's lack of access to health facilities.
Most of the 11,460 IDPs at Mawingo, Ol'Kalau district, fled the neighbouring Rift Valley Province in early 2008, during post-election violence that saw up to 660,000 people displaced across the country.
However, three years later, the Mawingo IDPs continue to live in dire camp conditions despite calm being restored across the country and many displaced people having been resettled through efforts of the government and aid agencies.
The IDPs say they hope the government will finally resettle them in a “safe” area. Although some received the Ksh35,000 (US$437) government compensation per household and bought the 24ha of land on which the camp currently stands, they still need help finding farming land that will sustain them.
Initially, Mawingo hosted 3,389 households (15,460 people), but the government has since resettled some of them at Giwa Farm in Rongai, along Nakuru-Eldoret highway.
While all of these households received an initial Ksh10,000 ($125) compensation payment, 1,680 of them are still waiting for the second promised payment of Ksh25,000 ($312), according to the camp’s communication officer, Evans Karanja.
The IDPs occasionally get relief food from the government and relief agencies. For daily survival, many residents engage in small business or work on nearby farms as casual labourers.
According to a July brief on the status of IDPs by the Ministry of Special Programmes, all IDP camps countrywide have been closed, leaving only transit sites and self-help groups. A total of 7,626 IDP households countrywide have not received the KSh10,000 start-up funds to which each household is entitled.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA Kenya) says delays in acquiring land for resettlement of post-election IDPs in transit sites has increased their vulnerability.
At Mawingo camp, poor access to health services and lack of proper housing top the list of basic needs.
Njeri only attends to medical cases that require first aid treatment, referring the more complex ones to the Ol'Kalau district hospital, 10km away.
"Accessing Ol'Kalau District Hospital is expensive and most patients call on me when it is too late," she said, adding that most of the IDPs failed to raise the Ksh3,000 ($37) taxi charge.
Evans Karanja, the camp's communication officer, said: "In case of an emergency, we are at times forced to contribute so that we can save the life of one of us."
Karanja said asthma was the common cause of death at the camp. Since its establishment, more than 20 people have died in asthmatic attacks.
There is only a two-roomed brick house for medical services, and there are no professional medical workers, to serve the camp.
The situation for IDPs at a nearby camp in Kikopey, Gilgil District in Rift Valley Province, is even worse; they have neither a clinic nor a social worker.
Ibrahim Mburu, the camp's chairman, said: "We normally carry patients to the Gilgil district hospital, 8km away, as we cannot afford the 600 shillings [$8] that taxis charge from the camp to the hospital.
"It is sad that the camp, with a population of 1,000 people, does not have even an emergency health facility.”
Photo: Rachel Kibui/IRIN
|Milka Waceke (right), an IDP at Kikopey, lost her baby when she went into labour on the way to hospital|
Milka Waceke, 23, who lost her baby on 13 March when she went into labour on the way to hospital, said: "I still feel the pain of losing my child, I wish I was near a hospital or had money to pay for a taxi, then I would not have lost my baby.”
For the 6,500 IDPs at Pipeline camp, along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway, the situation is slightly better. A well-wisher has constructed a two-roomed clinic.
However, there is no medical professional to administer drugs although the clinic has supplies, donated by well-wishers.
Paul Thiongo, the camp's chairman, said: "The nearest clinic is 4km away; a sick person cannot walk such a distance to seek treatment."
In all three camps, many IDPs said they were forced to remain standing in their tents every time it rained as water flowed into the tents. This situation is worse in Gilgil and Pipeline camps where tents often flood as they are situated on flat ground.
"While the rest of the country considers the ongoing heavy rains a blessing, it is like a curse to us," Mburu said.
The Minister for Special Programmes, Esther Murugi, recently announced that the thousands of IDPs still in camps would be resettled by December.