First UN Emergency Airlift Arrives in Nairobi With Aid for Somali Refugees

Horn of Africa is facing the "worst humanitarian crisis in 50 years."

DADAAB, Kenya, July 17, 2011 — -- The first U.N. emergency airlift flight arrived in the Kenyan capital today to assist the hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled the drought and famine afflicting their homeland.

"The giant cargo jet chartered by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that landed in Nairobi brought with it 100 tonnes of tents that are destined for the Dadaab refugee camp complex near the Kenya-Somalia border," the United Nations said in a statement.

Today's flight is the first of a series of five scheduled to arrive in Nairobi this week. Another airlift is scheduled to arrive in Ethopia next week with supplies and up to 20,000 tents, according to the news release.

Click Here to Find Out How You Can Help the Refugees of the Drought in Somalia.

U.N. agencies requested $1.6 billion to fund relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, which is facing what is being called one of the largest humanitarian crises in 50 years, but have only received half that amount.

ABC News witnessed firsthand the desperate need of the 430,000 Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia.

At the Dadaab camp, a child lies lifeless in his mother's lap, barely able to move. She clutches on, holding him close. Another feeds her baby with milk through an IV strapped to his face, his son is too weak to drink from a bottle. This is what acute malnutrition looks like. After travelling for weeks, with no food or water it is the children who suffer the most because they are so young and susceptible to diseases.

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The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 40 percent of Somali children are now malnourished.

"We are finding children who are arriving in very poor conditions," Allison Oman, a UNHCR nutritionist told the AP. "It is clear that families are waiting until the last moment to leave their homes, once they exhausted all their resources."

With thousands arriving at this refugee complex every day, the wards are filling up. Even the hospitals have set up camps to cope with the influx of sick children with tents in their courtyards.

One doctor told ABC News that with so many cases of malnutrition, the "program is overstretched."

"Resources are stretched," Dr. Malia Kader of the IRC said. "There's a lot of strain on the system. We are trying to cope. The numbers are unprecedented."

At one of the pediatric hospitals we spoke to Markaba Dukon cradling her frail 2-year-old son, Farhan. With the boy's eyes glazed over, body swollen and skin peeling, the doctor told us this is the severest form of malnutrition.

Farhan became sick as his family was making the long journey from Somalia to the Kenyan border, his mother thought he had died. After a blood transfusion, Farhan's body seems to be responding as he desperately clings to life, but he is still under observation.

In the same ward, Mallia Hassan showed us how painfully thin her 3-year-old son Dahiro was. Looking visibly emaciated, they arrived at the IRC hospital with pneumonia three days ago, and the boy is still coughing.

Then there is Mohammed. His mother Fatuma watches over him and won't leave his bedside. As we left, we saw Fatuma trying to feed her son, trying to breathe some life into him.

''The kind of support we need is funding so we can buy more therapeutic food and it's simple life-saving antibiotics and high calorific food, it's relatively easy,'' Malia said.

Until then, it is the children who will continue to pay the highest price of this disaster in the desert.

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