By Kevin MacRitchie
Since July 2011, the worst drought and famine in East Africa in more than 60 years placed severe strain on the multitude of humanitarian agencies working in Dadaab, Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp with a population exceeding 500,000 individuals. The unprecedented number of displaced people required a massive scale-up of operations by USAID-funded humanitarian agencies working in Dadaab. To meet mission goals and to save lives, significant improvements and increases in Internet connectivity were essential.
An initiative coordinated by the USAID Global Broadband and Innovations Alliance (GBI) developed an innovative, successful solution to connectivity needs – a low-cost, rapid-deployment broadband network implemented in conjunction with the private sector and 17 UN/NGO agencies at both international and local levels.
Through the DadaabNet Connectivity Improvement Project, the first phase of this broadband Internet network was installed by Kenyan commercial providers in April 2012. NetHope assisted with project, with sizeable contributions from supporters Inveneo, Cisco and Kenyan technology partners. During the recently completed second phase, NetHope, Cisco and the Norwegian Refugee Council extended connectivity, Internet access and a range of computer-based programs via the Norwegian Refugee Council Youth Education Pack initiative, providing services to the refugee population with a focus on youth. The third phase (not funded by USAID at present) will focus on renewable green power in a location where both sun and wind are viable power sources. DadaabNet provides an ideal opportunity to pilot green energy solutions being incubated in USAID science and technology programs as well as those being evaluated by the Kenya Mission.
DadaabNet adds a foundation for reliable high-speed file sharing, Cisco-designed video conferencing and VoIP telephony applications. The network also enables applications that support USAID’s Kenya mission priority programs in humanitarian assistance, health, education, security and economic growth.
Through the project’s demand aggregation model and strong partnership with Kenyan Internet service providers, the network operations are sustainable at the local level. The DadaabNet team, comprised of technicians from the mobile operator and trained local staff, supports maintenance and troubleshooting that are essential to ongoing operations. To ensure long-term technical support, the project has created innovative skills-building capacity for local NGO and UN technical staff in network equipment and functions.