World's Largest Refugee Camp Turns 20-Years-Old. That's a Major Problem.


Dadaab-Kenya-refugee-camp This post originally appeared on

Depressing right? Located in Eastern Kenya, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world with almost half a million refugees living there. That’s 500,000 people. Living in temporary housing – mostly tents, but also mud and brick houses. With no water, electricity, means of income..nothing.

There are 10,000 third-generation refugees in Dadaab. What the hell?? That means their parents were born in the camp as well. It was set up 20 years ago with 90,000 Somali refugees fleeing the Somali civil war of 1991/1992.

Last year’s famine in the Horn of Africa  saw an influx of nearly 140,000 more refugees, mostly Somalis. They are exposed to the dangers of overcrowding, health and sanitation problems, hunger, sexual harassment and violence. Last year, the Kenyan government turned down a proposal to build an extension of the camp to accommodate the growing number of refugees.

With a population larger than most of the world’s islands, at one point in 2011 Dadaab was receiving 9,000 refugees on a weekly basis.

food aid kenya

Dadaab is managed by UNHCR, the Kenyan government and several international NGOs including Medecins Sans Frontieres and CARE. For a look at life in Dadaab, the Atlantic has an interesting photo gallery.

There’s been a lot of #Kony2012 hype going on this week, and it’s been interesting to watch the power and speed of social media in spreading a specific message that calls to people’s inner willingness to do good. I read this on Evan Lieberman’s blog and I think he brings up some key questions that we can ask about the Kony campaign:

I don’t know if the Kony 2012 campaign will work, or if in the grand scheme of things, given Kony’s waning influence in the region that this is the problem that “deserves” the attention it’s getting. I’m impressed that so many people care, and that they are spending their time watching this instead of videos about babies biting their brother’s fingers (well, they do that too.)

My question is how to capture people’s imagination about problems that don’t have clear villains, or sexy solutions? And in particular, how to capture the imagination of people in the places where the problems persist so that they might develop the best solutions that are needed for improving their own lives?

“How to capture people’s imagine about problems that don’t have clear villains, or sexy solutions?” Food for thought. - Michelle Muita

Michelle Muita is a former New York Life undergraduate scholar (2009-2011). A Kenyan native, she lives and works in the Horn of Africa. Read more about her and our other contributors.