Field Report: Feeding centres alleviate chronic malnutrition in drought-affected Djibouti

At the therapeutic feeding centre of Balbala, on the outskirts of the capital city Djibouti, Abdelfattah, 20-months-old, stares suspiciously at the visitors who have just walked in. Report by Najwa Mekki, Balbala, Djibouti.

As he swallows a spoonful of what looks like thin sorghum paste that his mother is slowly feeding him, Abdelfattah seems a picture of perfect health. Yet, just a month and a half ago, his mother didn’t think he was going to make it.

Mothers bring their malnourished children to the centre for daily doses of ready-to-use therapeutic food.
A mother sits with her child in a therapeutic feeding centre in Balbala, in the outskirts of Djibouti City. Mothers bring their malnourished children to the centre for daily doses of ready-to-use therapeutic food. ©UNICEF/Djibouti/2011/Mekki

Life-saving feeding centres

Abdelfattah was referred to the UNICEF-supported feeding centre when he was diagnosed with malnutrition in the neighbourhood’s health clinic. For the past six weeks, his mother Asha, a Somali refugee who has lived in Djibouti for four years, has brought him to the centre daily to feed him a fortified porridge of wheat soy blend, a nutritional supplement for children with malnutrition.

The centre usually receives up to 30 children a month, but numbers shot up during the month of July, with 150 children receiving the life-saving supplement. Some of them are children of Somali refugees who have been living in Djibouti for years, others are children from the host community of Balbala.

Going door-to-door in the community to identify cases of malnutrition, staff at the centre has been urging families to bring their children for treatment.

Urgent assistance needed

In Djibouti, a country of less than 865,000 people , malnutrition is chronic , but has reached particularly high levels this year. In the poorer neighbourhoods of the main urban areas, rates of moderate malnutrition tripled from May 2010 and May 2011, affecting approximately 26,000 children.

Somali refugees in Djibouti, whether they’re long-term residents or new arrivals, are some of the most affected. At the Ali Addeh refugee camp , nearly three hours by road from the capital, some 17,000 refugees have sought refuge from the violence and drought wrecking their homeland.  About 20 per cent of the camp population are children under five.


Mohamed Dhaher Hussein (above) , 8, is a Somali refugee who has been living in Ali Addeh refugee camp in Djibouti for three years. He is a grade one student in the camp’s school and wants to go back to Somalia and work as a teacher when he grows up.

UNICEF is supporting humanitarian interventions in the Ali Addeh refugee camp, by increasing the water capacity to meet additional needs, and supplying the ready to eat therapeutic food necessary for children with malnutrition.

Beyond the camp, UNICEF is distributing emergency supplies for the treatment of malnutrition and is increasing access to safe drinking water through water trucking.

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