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Dadaab - Refugees from Somalia

Looming health catastrophe in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps

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  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns of a health disaster in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps where a cholera outbreak is spreading.
  • We call on the international community and aid agencies to respond urgently to the unfolding crisis, to address the alarming sanitary conditions and prevent the further spread of disease.

Nairobi – More funding is urgently needed to avert a looming health catastrophe in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps, warns Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today. A cholera outbreak in the camps has affected 2,786 people so far and there is an imminent risk of outbreaks of other gastro-intestinal diseases.

MSF calls for immediate action from donors and aid agencies to address the unsanitary conditions and overcrowding in the camps. 

The three refugee camps which make up the Dadaab complex, located in Kenya’s north-eastern region, are home to over 300,000 refugees, most from neighbouring Somalia. Their population has grown rapidly in recent months due to an extended drought in Somalia, leading to severe overcrowding and increased pressure on existing services, including supplies of drinking water and latrines.

MSF mobile clinic outside Dagahaley
Children stand at the entrace of an MSF mobile clinic set up outside the Dagahaley camp for new arrivals. Dadaab, Kenya, January 2023.

“The gravity of the situation demands urgent attention, particularly in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene,” says Hassan Maiyaki, MSF country director in Kenya. “We have already seen the worst cholera outbreak in five years and the risk of other epidemics breaking out is high. If this occurs, it would outstrip medical capacity in the camps, with potentially catastrophic consequences.” 

The current cholera outbreak is linked to reductions in essential water and sanitation activities in the camps, including providing clean water, distributing soap, constructing and repairing latrines, and organising waste management. Today, according to humanitarian organisations working in the camps, almost half the people in the camps have no access to functional latrines, leading to open defecation in and around the camps, which raises the risk of disease outbreaks.

The Kenyan Ministry of Health and humanitarian agencies have carried out cholera vaccinations and health promotion campaigns to help people protect themselves from the disease, but curbing the outbreak will require improvements to water and sanitation infrastructure.

The gravity of the situation demands urgent attention, particularly in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene. Hassan Maiyaki, MSF country director in Kenya

“Despite our health promotion activities and vaccination campaign, controlling this cholera outbreak remains elusive without the prioritisation of resources towards sustained preventive water, sanitation and hygiene interventions,” says Dr Nitya Udayraj, MSF medical coordinator in Kenya. 

“If they are not improved in quality and scale, it is just a matter of time before we see other epidemics erupt in the camps such as Hepatitis E.”

MSF runs a hospital in Dagahaley, one of the three camps that make up Dadaab. In Dagahaley alone, our teams have reported more than 1,120 cases of cholera and two deaths since the start of the outbreak in November 2022. 

Our water and sanitation teams are currently trucking 50,000 litres of drinking water each day to the outskirts of the camps. In recent weeks we have built 150 communal latrines, both within the camps and on the outskirts, where around 9,000 newly arrived refugees have set up rudimentary shelters in the surrounding desert.

So far, we have provided around 1,000 of these households with plastic sheeting, mats and liquid soap. But much more needs to be done to meet people’s needs and prevent a humanitarian crisis.

Dadaab - Refugees from Somalia
Borow Ali Khamis (third from left) and his family stand outside their makeshift shelter at the Dagahaley refugee camp. He was a farmer and livestock keeper in Somalia, but has lost everything due to the long drought. Dadaab, Kenya, June 2022.
MSF/Lucy Makori

The Kenyan government has announced plans to reopen a fourth camp – Ifo 2 – to accommodate new arrivals and alleviate the strain on resources in the existing camps. MSF is calling for these plans to be enacted as a matter of urgency, and to include increased funding for water and sanitation across all four camps. 

“The relocation to Ifo 2 should be hastened to ease pressure on the existing camps,” says Maiyaki. “All efforts to ease the overcrowding must include significant investment in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector to ensure a minimum standard of living for refugees in all the camps.” 

MSF calls on the international community, donors and aid agencies to respond urgently to the unfolding crisis in Dadaab, to take immediate action to address the alarming sanitary conditions and prevent the further spread of disease. In the longer term, we call on the Government of Kenya and the UNHCR to find durable solutions for the refugees confined within the camps at Dadaab.

The three camps of Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera currently host more than 245,000 registered refugees, many of whom have lived in the camps for more than three decades. The camps also host more than 124,000 unregistered refugees, including 67,000 who arrived in 2022. 

In January, MSF set up two more health clinics to provide healthcare to newly arrived refugees on the outskirts of Dagahaley camp. We have been providing medical care in and around Dadaab for most of the camp’s 32-year existence. Currently our activities are focused in Dagahaley camp, where we provide comprehensive healthcare to refugees and host communities through two health posts and a 92-bed hospital.

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Press Release 17 November 2023