The Horn of Africa Crisis is now considered to be the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st century.
The far-reaching, on-going drought in the region devastated agriculture, livestock and communities from Djibouti and Ethiopia to Kenya and Somalia, pushing many to leave their homes to find safe haven in a massive refugee camp.
The camp complex in Dadaab, Kenya has taken in over 400,000 refugees, with thousands of new arrivals every day. Many people walk for close to 20 days to make it to the camps. Some mothers are even forced to abandon their children, who are too weak to continue on the trek and are left on the side of the road.
The effects of the crisis are amplified by the lack of proper sanitation, health services and food. An estimated 15 million individuals, including over 400,000 children, require assistance before the situation improves.
NetHope Global Program Directors Joe Simmons and Gisli Olafsson conducted an ICT assessment of the situation in Kenya by visiting the Dadaab complex, nongovernmental organizations’ and United Nations’ operations as well as meeting with the NetHope East Africa Chapter, NetHope member organizations and technology partners, like Safaricom, Orange, Cisco and Inveneo. Member organization CARE helps manage the Dadaab camp, which is run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
NetHope’s goal was to work on the ground with NGOs and UN organizations to quickly develop better Internet and enterprise class connectivity to enable better information sharing, collaboration and improve the efficiency of relief efforts.
The Dadaab Connectivity project presents a compelling opportunity to establish shared data services in the area. Working with partners and selected agency engineering staff, a robust reliable WiMAX, WiFi and mobile network will be leveraged along with Very Small Aperture (satellite) Systems (VSATs) to enable access points for sharing connectivity among over 20 humanitarian assistance organizations. The high concentration of offices that are close to each other — both in the main compound and in the camps — made this approach practical and workable even in this remote, harsh environment.
This project integrates into NetHope’s broader East Africa Connectivity Program, which targets Dadaab and Kwale in Kenya and Juba in South Sudan as sites to improve connectivity services and reduce connectivity costs. The introduction of undersea fiber-optic cable into East Africa in 2009 created new opportunities to enhance connectivity services in the region, and effectively afforded the opportunity for NetHope and its members and partners to create this program.
In the past, NetHope chose VSATs as the primary way to deliver connectivity to rural areas. Because of the presence of cable broadband and new remote access points, the existing, relatively expensive VSATs in Dadaab, as well as any additional systems, can now be repurposed as back-up resources.
With strong, reliable Internet offered by the Dadaab Connectivity project and the support from the public and private sectors, humanitarian organizations will be able to better respond to crises in the area through effective coordination and more shared information.