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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations
25 June 2024

Saving lives in crisis-hit Djibouti

In Kor Angar, a WFP supported-women’s group provides refugee mothers with child-rearing information.
© WFP Djibouti

Djibouti, a small East African country on the Red Sea, is dealing with a host of crises, including recurrent droughts, locust swarms, flooding, and epidemics. The country is also home to some 35,000 people fleeing conflict and economic hardship in Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen. With over 90% of its food imported, the sharp spike in global food prices has also resulted in widespread hunger among Djibouti’s approximately one million inhabitants, resulting in increasing food insecurity and levels of malnutrition among children. Since 2020, the European Union has supported the country with an average of €500,000 in humanitarian aid each year.

Clement Cazaubon, who oversees EU humanitarian programs in Djibouti, spoke to us about the ongoing crisis.

Djibouti doesn’t get the international attention usually given to its neighbours Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Could you describe the situation in the country?

“Given that Djibouti is relatively peaceful, there is indeed limited attention to the country’s many humanitarian challenges. Poverty rates stand at some 70 percent, with over 40 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. Food insecurity associated with droughts and other local climatic shocks, coupled with disease outbreaks and water shortages, lead to regular humanitarian needs. Many people live in remote deserts and mountainous locations, where access to basic services is extremely limited. In 2022 and 2023, these mostly pastoralist communities battled a very difficult and prolonged drought, which decimated their livestock and led to widespread hunger. The situation forced thousands of people to flee to urban centers in search of better lives and economic opportunities. Once there, humanitarian partners help with water and sanitation, cash support and other classical forms of assistance.”

Signboards informing migrants of nearby water points and towns. EU-supported migration reception centers also provide a safe space for victims of torture and trafficking.
© European Union (photographer: Clement Cazaubon)

How are the refugees and migrants in the country getting by on a daily basis?

“Djibouti has ensured an open-door policy to people fleeing war in neighbouring countries. Some have been stranded for years and the Djibouti government has provided them with some basic rights, including access to education and some employment. However, their living conditions remain difficult, with high levels of food insecurity and limited access to basic services due to difficult living conditions, including for hosts. Djibouti is also a destination and a transit country for people headed to the Middle East and the Gulf States. Most are young Ethiopians hoping for better life, and they are often not prepared for the very difficult journey and risks associated with illegal migration organized by often ruthless smugglers. Many of the migrants become stranded or decide to stay in Djibouti, where they often fall into poverty.”

What is the EU doing to help? What needs to be done?

“We help people access basic services, particularly in the field of nutrition, via provision for malnourished children of fortified food and milk, as well as supporting deployment in remote areas of additional workforce to actively look for children in need. We also help people on the move by deploying mobile teams which provide water, food and basic first aid care. In the vast and inhospitable deserts of Djibouti, these interventions can truly save lives.”

Migrants traversing the dangerous Djibouti deserts are assisted by mobile teams, which provide water and food and first aid care.
© European Union (photographer: Clement Cazaubon)
  • Peter Biro

    Story by Peter Biro, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

    Publication date: 25/06/2024