500,000 Refugees, Countless Stories: Welcome to Dadaab

When the idea for a documentary project about the world’s largest refugee camp came about, in early 2011, Dadaab, Kenya was a place that few had heard of. A haven for those fleeing armed conflict, disaster, or persecution, on the border with Somalia, Dadaab was already home to the world’s largest refugee camp – a dubious honor it held by a wide margin. And yet to most, Dadaab simply drew a blank.

All that changed in early 2011, when the looming famine in the Horn of Africa sent refugees flooding into the camp. Soon after, as famine was formally declared in Somalia, international journalists followed. For the first time in years, Dadaab was suddenly in the news: an international symbol for a humanitarian crisis. There were 500,000 refugees in a camp that was built for 90,000.

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Kenya’s Newest City
The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is the world’s largest. The machinery of international famine relief is in full gear there, but hundreds of thousands of people may become long-term residents. Conditions have prompted a camp manager to transform a temporary refuge into a city of the future.

Somalia suffers from the double curse of drought and war. The situation has worsened in the twenty years since the nation’s central government collapsed. And now international speculators, betting on agricultural commodities markets, have driven up prices and forced people like Nuriya to leave their homes. The West gives millions of dollar every year; but the West also takes. Dadaab and its residents are a microcosm of Africa, a place full of people forced by war, global markets and drought into a life that could not exist without the global aid machine.  >continue<

Responding To Drought In The Horn of Africa

Drought currently affecting the Horn of Africa is exacerbating already precarious conditions for many people in eastern Africa. MSF teams are seeing a dramatic effect on the Somali population—both those in Somalia and the many who have fled to overcrowded camps in Dadaab, Kenya, and parts of Ethiopia. The numbers of malnourished children in MSF feeding programs in these areas are rising. This, along with the conflict in Somalia, limited access to healthcare, high food prices, and inadequate aid amounts to a widespread humanitarian crisis.

Photo: A malnourished child rests inside MSF’s inpatient therapeutic feeding center in Dadaab. (Kenya 2011 © Yahya Dahiye/MSF)


As the school year begins, UNICEF has created a new education programme for refugee children at the Dadaab camps in Kenya.

Noor, a fifteen-year-old orphan from Somalia, is determined to get an education and has been enrolled for classes.

There are 150,000 children of schoolgoing age at the Dadaab camps, but so far only a third of them have access to education facilities.

Find out more about the East Africa children’s crisis. 


Young Somali students living in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, the world’s largest refugee camp, sent letters of encouragement to Syrian refugee children who also had to flee their homeland. They offered messages of solidarity, encouragement and advice. In their letters, they emphasized the importance of studying and gaining an education while in the camps. "Our beloved brothers and sisters, go and work hard in school, be the stars and the new presidents of Syria,“ Dahir Mohamed wrote in an inspirational letter.

See more photos and letters via BBC News


Independent Television News’ Martin Geissler reports from the intensive care unit at Hagadera Hospital in Dadaab. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled from Somalia into Kenya. Be advised: This story does contain disturbing images.

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Here are some of my first photos out of the refugee camp in Dadaab.  This was at an extension of Ifo camp, which was just built less than 2 weeks ago, and is already home to around 10,000 refugees from Somalia.  In the second photo, the boy is carrying wooden planks inscribed with classroom lessons, which are used in the school.

On Crisis Hopping

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Image by Sam Loewenberg. Kenya, 2011.

Last week Pulitzer Center grantee Sam Loewenberg, filed one of the first reports from Dadaab, the immensely over-crowded refugee camp in Northeastern Kenya and ground-zero of the Somali humanitarian crisis.

Loeweberg’s report for TIME came the day before the UN officially declared famine in two regions of southern Somalia. Since then, the story has exploded in the mainstream media and the UN’s World Food Program began airlifting food in earnest to areas hardest hit by famine and drought in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

My question is, why so much attention now? The UN and other aid agencies have tried to raise awareness of the crippling drought that is a major factor in the current famine for nearly a year. 

“There has been a catastrophic breakdown of the world’s collective responsibility to act…by the time the U.N. calls it a famine, it is already a signal of large-scale loss of life.” —Fran Equiza, regional director of Oxfam, quoted in the Washington Post 

As Loewenberg points out, "The drought and skyrocketing food and fuel prices that have pushed populations in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia into dangerous levels of malnutrition were forecast last winter.” Too, anyone familiar with Dadaab will tell you it has been on the verge of catastrophe for at least the last decade. If not drought, then floods; if not famine, then severe overcrowding.

To be sure, the situation in the Horn is a complex amalgam of failed governments and repressive anti-government militias, as well as schizophrenic aid and intervention policies. That said, I can’t help but feel this is the latest in a long line of examples of our collective inability to focus on more than one crisis at a time, and more crucially of our savant-like ability to gloss over the most entrenched and systemic crises in favor of those sexier and easier to digest.


What are your thoughts?

A Day in Dadaab: Four Somali Refugees Tell Their Story

In 2010, we did this feature on life in Dadaab, which was already one of the world’s most congested refugee camps. A musician, a poet, a mother, and a woman with a song testify to not only the hardships of life in a refugee camp, but also portray an image of the cruel realities of life in Somalia.

Find udpated information on the situation in Dadaab here.

A Somali boy stood on a cannister Wednesday as he waited to collect water at the UNHCR’s Ifo Extension camp outside Dadaab, Kenya. The Dadaab refugee camp is the largest in the world. The current population is over 400,000 with thousands of new arrivals crammed into areas outside the camp. (Photo: Jerome Delay / AP via the Wall St. Journal)

The heavy rains soaking the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya – the largest in the world – would normally mean sweet relief. But this year the rains have also caused an uptick in cholera, a potentially deadly disease caused by a bacteria that spreads through contaminated water.


(Somali boys fetch water from a puddle in the sprawling Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya. Photo by Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images.)

The devastating drought and famine across the Horn of Africa has sent millions of starving people into camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The international response has been hindered by the chaos in Somalia, where foreign aid agencies have been denied access to Shabab-controlled regions.

Daniel Howden, Africa Correspondent ..

_The severity of the drought in the Shabab areas has sent tens of thousands of people into war-torn Mogadishu, up to 2,000 people a day into camps across the border in Ethiopia and 1,500 people a day into the Dadaab complex of camps in northern Kenya. (read full).