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Africa drought rips families apart, brings strangers together

Millions of people in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan are being affected by severe drought conditions. One desperate woman, looking for help, walked for an entire month with her five children to try to reach a refugee camp. ITV's Rohit Kachroo reports from the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya.

By Rohit Kachroo, NBC News

DADAAB, Kenya - With a population of almost 400,000, the Dadaab Refugee Camp in north-east Kenya is beginning to resemble a city. Like in any fast-growing metropolis, the morning rush here can be a miserable time; the infrastructure creaks louder than at any other part of the day. This must be the most desperate rush-hour of any city in the world.

At around 8 a.m., a huge crowd of new residents begin to stream through the gates of the reception center. Most have been forced here by the worst drought to affect East Africa for 60 years – described by the United Nations as a "humanitarian emergency."

World Food Program officials estimate that 10 million people already need humanitarian aid, The Associated Press reported Sunday. The U.N. Children's Fund estimates that more than 2 million children are malnourished and in need of lifesaving action.

Many of the new arrivals are families who have walked from Somalia for days or even weeks in search of food and water.

Amongst the line of refugees, many terrible stories are shared about the children who have died along the way. But some prefer to keep their stories to themselves.

The United Nations says malnutrition among child refugees fleeing the drought in Somalia has reached alarming rates. Drought and famine are affecting millions of people in the Horn of Africa. NBC's Rohit Kachroo reports.

I spot a 52-year-old woman perched in the shade, sitting on her own and staring at the sky. She seems terrified, so I ask her whether she needs any help. She pauses and then explodes with an outburst of emotion and regret, telling me how she began her 200-mile journey with her 12-year-old boy – mother and son together. Then, stroking her throat and clutching her stomach, she reveals that he died along the way; his hunger and thirst had grown as they walked; his life was apparently claimed by the devastating drought. She returns to silence and, as we leave her, she seems to become engrossed in her thoughts once again.

Hunger and exhaustion
Nearby, amid a swirling dust storm, three young mothers run for cover under a shelter, each clutching their baby; we run with them. The blowing sand picks up and the mothers huddle together to shield the other children from the conditions as much as they do their own. They appear to be the best of friends – but it turns out that they met along the way from Somalia to Kenya and formed an immediate bond built upon their shared circumstances. Their closeness demonstrates that the drought which has ripped families apart has also forced some people together.

Elsewhere in the camp, we find a mother cramming her children into a makeshift tent. She has six boys and girls with her, but I soon learn that they are not all her own. She welcomed the eldest child into her family during their month-long walk from the northern tip of rural Somalia. The boy's real mother died after collapsing from hunger and exhaustion on the penultimate day of their voyage; the two families had befriended each other as they made similar trips south towards the refugee camp. Yet the youngster's new mother seems to treat him no differently to any of the other children.

To welcome an orphan into your family without reluctance might seem like an incredible thing to do when your own family continues to endure so much; but this sort of charity is not unique amongst the new refugees, who are arriving into Dadaab at the rate of up to 1,500 a day. In incredibly trying circumstances, there have been great acts of kindness. But with predictions that the drought will develop into a full-scale famine, there might be need for much more generosity.