The Kenyan government has promised to expand a refugee camp for thousands of desperate Somalis fleeing a drought crisis in the Horn of Africa, and faith groups and humanitarian agencies are praising the move.

“The LWF [Lutheran World Federation] welcomes the decision as a vital life-saving measure, especially in view of the current high influx of Somali refugees fleeing drought and insecurity at home,” the Rev. Martin Junge, the LWF’s general secretary said in a letter on July 18 to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minster Raila Odinga.

The LWF, which manages the camp for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is working with other agencies to provide food and water to the refugees, many of whom are starving children.

The camp, called “Ifo II,” is an extension of the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, which now holds nearly 500,000 Somalias and has become the world’s largest refugee camp. “Ifo II” has been standing empty complete with new water tanks, lavatories and health care facilities.

On July 14, after touring Dadaab, Odinga announced the government would allow settlement within 10 days as a humanitarian gesture. The region’s drought is viewed as the worst in the last 60 years. An estimated 10 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia face starvation and malnutrition. The U.N. describes it as the world’s most dire humanitarian emergency.

“Since the camp is already there, I think the decision to open it is a good one. I welcome it,” Roman Catholic Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti and the Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu told ENInews on July 18.

“It will not solve the problem in Southern Somalia, but surely human lives will be saved,” added Bertin, the President of Caritas Somalia, a Catholic aid agency.

Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement from his Geneva office, applauded the opening and promised his organization's full support to the government. He said this will ease overcrowding at the camp.

Andrew Mitchell, the British Secretary for International Development, speaking in Nairobi after visiting the Dadaab camp, said the international community should support Kenya in appreciation of the decision.