In Pictures: The other side of famine

In the Dadaab refugee camp images of dignity and resilience exist alongside those of desperation and destitution.


    Touted as the harshest drought in six decades, more than 12 million people are said to be vulnerable to starvation in the Horn of Africa.

    Somalia, without a central government for the past two decades, has been the worst hit, with around 3.2 million of its citizens facing intermittent starvation. Every day thousands flee to Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.

    In the Dadaab refugee complex in north eastern Kenya, which is home to an estimated 440,000, mostly Somali, refugees, the UNHCR says that the plight of new arrivals reflects deteriorating conditions inside Somalia.

    Dadaab may be bursting at the seams - a stark example of natural disaster and human failure - but it is also the site of innovation, agency and entrepreneurialism. The resilience and dignity of those in the most precarious of positions - victims of drought, civil war and poor governance - offer an alternative to the often simplified images of desperation that flash across our television screens and further compound the international weariness over the crisis.

    Al Jazeera's Azad Essa goes in search of the other side of famine in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.

    A young girl sits patiently in a queue awaiting her family's ration of food and supplies at the Dagahaley reception centre in Dadaab. Even after new arrivals from Somalia are registered, it can take up to 10 days before they are able to access the rations set by the UNHCR and WFP.


    Brightly coloured traditional dress, shy smiles and childlike curiosity sit in stark contrast to the desperation all around.


    It is not uncommon for neighbours to help build a traditional pastoralist hut, known as tukuls, for newly arrived refugees who are often stranded without access to UNHCR tents on the outskirts of the Dagahaley camp. These are made from branches, twigs and dry grass.


    Amid the squalor, entrepreneurs find innovative ways to provide a service and run a small business. Here, donkey carts are used to transport goods and food and even function as a taxi service inside the 50 square kilometre camp.


    Religion and football form the key respite for residents of Dadaab, as they do for millions of disenfranchised people across the globe.


    Children on the main thoroughfare in the Hagadaley camp give me a taste of my - and many other journalists' - medicine.


    The camps have a market place which functions as a town centre with shops selling groceries and mobile phones, offering services to those who can afford them.


    Buses bring Kenyan business people from Nairobi into the camp where they trade with Somali refugees who have set up shops and restaurants.


    Within the ambit of a shrinking world, the youth of Dadaab are caught between dreaming of a peaceful Somalia and joining the outside world.

    Most households are women-led, as thousands of husbands and fathers remain behind in Somalia, either involved in the fighting, looking after the last remaining livestock, or raising more money to make the journey to Dadaab.

    Naturally in a complex that has been in existence since 1991 and has seen many waves of refugees, a disparity has emerged in the quality of accommodation. The older and more established homes, made from mud and surrounded by fences constructed from branches, represent the higher end of camp living.


    At the other end of the housing spectrum are the tukuls canvassed by a patchwork of sheets and cardboard to protect them from the heat, dust and sand storms.


    At the centre of this humanitarian crisis are fractured families - torn apart by death, poverty and neglect. Thousands of children continue to make the journey to Dadaab without their parents.

    Children play barefoot among open toilets, animal faeces, infant graves and dead carcasses.


    In the semi-arid regions of the Horn of Africa, drought is frequent but this is a crisis that owes as much to human failings as the challenges posed by nature.



    Time seems to stand still on the outskirts of Dadaab where life, death and dust co-exist seamlessly. Here, a giant Maribou stork monitors the low-life below.


    Thousands of young boys who arrived from Somalia at the start if the civil war in 1991 have grown into educated but unemployed and restless youth who have never seen the world outside the confines of their refugee camp.


    Curious children watch those watching them. The UN says that up to 80% of the refugees leaving Somalia are women and children.


    Scores of freshly filled unmarked graves, sometimes demarcated by dead tree branches, sit on the outskirts of the camp between make shift toilets, tukuls and tents - like swollen boils on the earth's skin.


    Thousands of malnourished children under the age of five - a new generation of camp residents - now face stunted growth and an uncertain future, their fate dependent both on nature and politicians.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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