Dadaab is a semi-arid town in Garissa County, Kenya. It is the site of a large UNHCR base hosting 329,811 refugees in five camps as of October 2015, making it the largest refugee camp complex in the world. Dadaab is located approximately 100 kilometres (60 mi) from the Kenya–Somalia border. The nearest major town is Garissa, which is the headquarters of the North Eastern Province.
Background and creation
The Dadaab camps Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo were constructed in 1992. The more recent Ifo II and Kambioos camps were opened in 2011 after 130,000 new refugees, who fled Somalia due to severe drought, arrived. The Ifo II camp extension was originally constructed in 2007 by the Norwegian Refugee Council, in response to major flooding that destroyed over 2,000 homes in the Ifo refugee camp. However, legal problems with the Kenyan Government prevented Ifo II from fully opening for resettlement until 2011. As of August 2015, Hagadera was the largest of the camps, containing just over 100,000 individuals and 25,000 households. Kambioos, on the other hand, is the smallest camp with fewer than 20,000 refugees. Ifo camp was first settled by refugees from the civil war in Somalia, and later efforts were made by UNHCR to improve the camp. As the population of the Dadaab camps expanded, UNHCR contacted German architect Werner Shellenberg who drew the original design for Dagahaley Camp and Swedish architect Per Iwansson who designed and initiated the creation of Hagadera camp.
Population growth and decline
In July 2011, it was reported that more than 1,000 people per day were arriving in dire need of assistance, largely due to the drought in East Africa. The influx reportedly placed great strain on the base’s resources, as the capacity of the camps was about 90,000, whereas the camps hosted 439,000 refugees in of July 2011 according to the UNHCR. The number was predicted to increase to 500,000 by the end of 2011 according to estimates from Médecins Sans Frontières. Those population figures ranked Dadaab as the largest refugee camp in the world, which it still is today despite a recent drop in numbers. According to the Lutheran World Federation, military operations in the conflict zones of southern Somalia and a scaling up of relief operations had by early December 2011 greatly reduced the movement of migrants into Dadaab.
Arriving at Dadaab
When refugees arrive at the camp, they are registered and fingerprinted by the Kenyan government. The camps are managed by the UNHCR, but other organizations are directly in charge of specific aspects of the refugees’ lives. CARE oversees social services and the World Food Programme (WFP) helps alleviate the food scarcity issues present at the camps. Until 2003, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provided refugees with access to health care, but now German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) controls this aspect of refugee life in Dadaab. Refugees arriving at Dadaab receive assistance from each of these organizations, but due to overcrowding, aid is often not immediate. Other relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, also provide assistance to refugees in the Dadaab camps. Specifically, the Red Cross gives refugees in the Ifo II camp access to health services, sanitation, and clean water. In an attempt to reduce the spread of disease, they recently installed 8,000 latrines in the camp, as well as hand washing stations in schools.
Structure of the camps
The Dadaab refugee camp complex is so vast that it has been compared to a city, with urban features such as high population density, economic activity, and concentration of infrastructure. Like a typical urban area, Dadaab contains public service buildings such as schools and hospitals. The Ifo II camp, for example, includes religious spaces, a disability center, police stations, graveyards, a bus station, and more. In addition, it is designed in a grid-like pattern, with the market on one side and a green belt at the center of the many lines of tents. Despite these many amenities, however, the camps are crowded and have few signposts, making them confusing and difficult to navigate for new arrivals.
With camps filled to capacity, NGOs have worked to improve camp conditions. However, as most urban planners frequently lack the tools to contend with such complex issues, there have been few innovations to improve Dadaab. Opportunities remain such as upgrading and expansion processes for communications infrastructure, environmental management and design. Some of the factors affecting quality of life for refugees are diet and malnutrition, shelter, health care, education, environmental factors, safety, and their economic and legal status.
Diet and malnutrition
Refugees receive food rations containing cereal, legumes, oil, and sugar from the World Food Programme (WFP). Markets at each of the camps have fresh food for sale, but due to limited income opportunities, most refugees are unable to afford them. Some have used innovations such as multi-storey gardens to help overcome food scarcity, which require only basic supplies to construct and less water to maintain than normal gardens.
One reason refugees arrive at the camps is displacement caused by famine. By the end of 2011, more than 25% of refugees living in the Dadaab camps had arrived as a result of the famine in the Horn of Africa. Individuals arriving under these conditions are already very malnourished, and once at the camps they still experience food scarcity. Although malnutrition contributes to high death rates among children, it has been observed that the longer an individual has already lived in Dadaab, the more their chance of dying from malnutrition decreases. Due to overcrowding and lack of resources, refugees don’t receive their first food rations until 12 days after arrival, on average. Food rations are generally distributed to children under the age of five first, because they are at the greatest risk of malnutrition and starvation.