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Somalis running from famine toward the Dadaab camp in Kenya must run one more gauntlet before they reach refuge.

Bandits hide in the thorny bushes dotting the sand, waiting to steal anything that refugees haven't lost already.

"When they come, they have nothing," said Rachel Wolff, director of media relations for World Vision. "They sometimes don't even have the clothes on their backs."

The drought stretched across the Horn of Africa to hit Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. But the crisis only reached U.N.-specified famine conditions in Somalia, where one-third of the children are extremely malnourished. UNICEF estimates that 14 children are dying each hour in some parts of the country.

Refugees are running from East Africa's worst drought in 60 years. Tens of thousands have died and the death toll may reach 750,000 before the end of the year. The worst part of the drought is in Somalia, and refugees are pouring out because aid agencies cannot get in.

World Vision, Lutheran World Federation, Samaritan's Purse, the American Friends Service Committee, and other aid groups work in massive refugee camps across the country's borders in Kenya and Ethiopia, and in northern Somali communities where the government is more stable, but few venture to southern Somalia's worst-hit regions.

And now Dadaab itself has been declared unsafe: With the kidnapping of two Spanish women working with Medecins Sans Frontieres, the aid organization has evacuated its four dozen staff to Nairobi. The U.N. halted almost all aid operations in the refugee camp, but they have since resumed.

Meanwhile, only a handful of humanitarian groups work in the famine areas in the middle of southern Somalia, said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia policy expert and professor of political ...

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October 2011

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