Emergency funds running dry in Dadaab, world’s largest refugee camp

Published: 12th July 2012

Tens of thousands of lives at risk with money for vital services set to run out in 2-3 months

One year since images of Somalis fleeing famine and conflict and pouring into Dadaab captured the world’s attention, the largest refugee camp in the world is facing a critical funding shortage which will affect at least 200,000 people if $25 million isn’t raised, a group of seven aid agencies said today.

The agencies called on the international community to rethink its approach to long-term solutions for the camp, and warned that the gaps in aid could worsen insecurity in the region.

Dadaab’s population increased by a third in the past year to over 465,000 people, and the needs in the camp are greater than ever before. Yet as global attention has shifted, funding for the camp has not kept pace. The impact of the funding shortfall, outlined in a new briefing paper, is already being felt by refugees across Dadaab and will get worse over the coming months:

  • 130,000 refugees will soon be without adequate shelter, living in temporary tents that are quickly destroyed by the harsh climate. At the moment 30,000 new shelters are needed, yet funding is only available for 4,000.
  • From September 2012, the supply of new water and sanitation services to 50,000 refugees is in danger. Without the only source of safe water and new latrines, the threat of cholera is greatly increased.
  • Health services are overcrowded and underequipped. In the Hagadera camp in Dadaab, two health units serve the needs of 78,000 people – quadruple the minimum emergency standard of 1 unit per 10,000 people. From October 2012, funding shortfalls mean there will be no community health workers in Hagadera camp.
  • 164,000 children – over 70 percent of those in Dadaab – are currently out of school. Lack of education and employment opportunities increases the potential for disenfranchised youth to be recruited into militia and banditry. Education is vital to equip refugees to contribute to the reconstruction, peace and stability of their home country and the wider region. Children who do go to school attend classes of over 100 pupils and only one-in-five teachers have formal training.
  • Twenty percent of families in Dadaab face threats, harassment and discrimination. Women and children face sexual violence while collecting firewood or walking long distances to use poorly-lit latrines. Reports of sexual violence increased by 36 percent between February and May 2012. Yet funding for protection programs has decreased, and there are not enough trained staff to provide psychosocial care. Refugees without proper shelter are particularly vulnerable.

“The funding shortfall means people who have fled unimaginable suffering are not getting the care they need. As well as the human cost, there is also a cost to security in the region. If children are not going to school and if people do not have proper shelter and other services, this has the potential to fuel further insecurity,” said Stephen Vaughan, head of CARE Kenya.

Dadaab has been in existence for 20 years, and last year’s influx saw 160,000 Somalis arrive into the already severely overcrowded camps.

“Refugee camps are only temporary solutions and the situation is increasingly untenable. Funds are needed now to save lives, but we can’t keep pumping money in year after year while the camp keeps getting bigger. A change in approach is urgently needed. However, right now, the world has an obligation not to turn its back on Dadaab and the needs of the people there,” said Nigel Tricks, head of Oxfam in Kenya.

The agencies called for a durable and peaceful solution in Somalia, so that refugees feel able to return home. The agencies also called for a long-term vision that creates employment and infrastructure to remove refugees’ dependence on short-term aid. With insecurity in the camp restricting access for aid agencies, more investment is needed to build the skills and capacity of refugee communities and local organizations to deliver services.

“Humanitarian workers in Dadaab have been working to full capacity under extremely difficult circumstances for the past year. We are committed to providing quality health care here, but because of the funding shortfall, it is likely that some basic services will be cut, leaving refugees more vulnerable,” said Kellie Leeson, Deputy Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee.

Related links

Download the briefing note: The Human Costs of the Funding Shortfalls for the Dadaab Refugee Camps (PDF)

Video: "Water is life." A 'thank you' for helping bring a borehole to Turkana, Kenya

Photos: Dadaab refugee camp

East Africa food crisis

Refugee camps are only temporary solutions and the situation is increasingly untenable.
Nigel Tricks
Head of Oxfam in Kenya

Notes to editors

The agencies signing the statement are:

  • CARE
  • Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
  • Danish Refugee Council (DRC)
  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)
  • Lutheran World Federation (LWF)
  • Oxfam
  • Terre des Hommes (TdH)

The $25 million figure is calculated from the combined current funding shortages for the seven signatory agencies. This does not cover other work in Dadaab. Costs of operating in Dadaab continue to change, and any further deterioration in security or influx of new arrivals could increase costs further.

Contact information

Alun McDonald, Media and Communications Officer, Horn East & Central Africa:

  • Mobile: +254 73666 6663
  • Office: +254 202820203
  • Email: amcdonald@oxfam.org.uk
  • Skype: alunmcdonald
  • Twitter: @alunmcdonald