Children of Somalia's famine flood hospital

DADAAB REFUGEE CAMP, Kenya - U.S. officials are warning that hundreds of thousands of children face death from starvation and thirst. The people at the world's largest refugee camp have survived a journey that has taken weeks or even months.

They brought their families through the desert, carried the children, left those who died, and willed themselves through the pain of hunger. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley reports a quarter-inch of wire was all that stood between them and survival.

Abdey Adan said she'd been waiting four days to get into the overwhelmed Dadaab Camp. Adan left Somalia on foot with five children 22 days ago. She said two of her children, ages four and two died "because there was no water there was no food."

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The fence catches broken pieces of families. Mahmood is 15 and alone. His mother, still in Somalia, sent him to the camps because she couldn't feed him. The U.N. tells us more than three and a half million are in danger of starvation.

Complete Coverage: East Africa Famine

Once they're called through the wire they're registered, tagged and examined. If their arms are determined to be too slender for their age, the children are sent to something called the stabilization center.

The hospital for the children of the famine is run by New York-based humanitarian relief organization the International Rescue Committee.

According to Humphrey Musyoka, the IRC's doctor here, the hospital is set up for 20 patients. "We are currently holding 28 as you can see we have more beds in the corridors."

Musyoka told us the treatment is often simple - fortified milk or nutrition through a feeding tube.

"These children that we've seen in the hospital that look so critical, you can save them," Pelley said.

"All of them are generally salvageable cases," Musyoka replied. "I think our biggest challenge has been the late arrivals and at that particular point there is only so much you can do."

By late arrivals he means kids who have been without food for 30 days or more. He loses one or two of them a week. Its estimated 29,000 children under the age of five have died in the famine already.

Here, mothers or grandmothers lie all day with children who have wasted to the minimum that life requires. The sickest child was Hammad. He's six months old. His mother, Abdia Ali, told us there is no hope for him but God.

Hawa Hassan fled the famine and walked 21 days in the desert with 11 children - five of her own and six others. She told us her girl is getting better. Her name is Faiza - which means "victory."

"I wonder, after hearing the stories of what these people have been through, as a medical doctor, are you surprised," Pelley asked.

"Very much, Musyoka replied. "I think what I have seen here is the resilience of the human body and the capacity to take that kind of battering in terms of hunger and still be able to make it. I regard that as a miracle."

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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