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Joint WFP/UNHCR evaluation of Kenyan refugee programme

Summary of report1

In September 1999, WFP and UNHCR conducted a joint evaluation of their assistance (Protracted Relief Operation (PRO)) to Somali and Sudanese refugees living in camps in Kenya. At the time of the evaluation there were approximately 120,000 refugees (mostly Somali), in Dadaab, with the remaining 80,000 (75% Sudanese) in Kakuma. The focus of the evaluation was the existing PRO although the team also assessed the impact of the long-term assistance provided since 1991. The main findings are summarised in this article.

Economic Environment

The refugee programme in Kenya has for nine years been characterised in terms of protracted relief with little possibility of breaking the mould of dependency. Regional wars have shown no sign of abating while the forecast for large-scale repatriation have not been promising with resettlement providing a solution for relatively few refugees.

Traditionally, refugee self-reliance is contingent upon external economic opportunities, e.g. integration, trading, mobility, employment. In Kakuma and Dadaab camps, enforced containment and the lack of durable solutions forced the evaluation team to examine the extent to which an internal economy might be viable.

General distribution

Large amounts of staff and time were involved in supporting the distribution process, particularly in Kakuma. For security reasons, food distribution in both camps was carried out on a bi-monthly basis. The result is that implementing partners utilise staff and resources exclusively for distribution to the detriment of other programmes. In Kakuma, for instance, school attendance drops during distribution while other programmes and services, e.g. shelter and social services, are undermined by the fact that transport and staff are monopolised twice a month for five days.

The solution lies in a combination of (a) increasing the capacity of the distribution centres, (b) moving to a once-monthly distribution, and (c) having alternative EDP storage to reduce in-camp transport costs.

Empty food containers

WFP has used empty food containers (sacks and oil tins) in a number of innovative ways in Kakuma and Dadaab. In Dadaab, for instance, between October 1998 and July 1999, WFP distributed 778,069 sacks and 210,770 tins for various purposes. The sacks (with a market value of 8-10 KSh each) were distributed to girls in schools to encourage enrollment and regular attendance. From 1993 to 1999 girl attendance in primary schools rose from 1,524 to 8,295, in part attributable to this incentive programme. Sacks and tins were also distributed within the various income generating and skills programmes to encourage female attendance.

The most impressive use of empty containers has been in Dadaab where WFP raised 2.52 million KSh by selling them to CARE, then using the money to construct 33 classrooms. In addition, tins were used in constructing school walls and latrines. In Kakuma, tins were used for home roof construction by unaccompanied Sudanese minors.

Trade in food commodities

The general consensus among refugee and agency representatives is that self-reliance on anything more than a piecemeal basis is not a viable option for people within a closed and barren environment. Integration as a durable solution has not been pursued by the Government of Kenya, though the evaluation team found a surprising level of economic integration between refugees and local populations. In Dadaab in particular, a large number of Kenyans act as 'middlemen' for trade in food commodities between the camps and regional towns. In Kakuma, Turkana people will purchase small quantities of rations from refugees, then sell them at the local markets.

CARE in Dadaab and LWF in Kakuma have encouraged skills development and income generating activities, some of which have an external market value. In Dadaab, loans are given to some refugees setting up business in the market which in turn relates to the 'export' of food items. It is estimated that up to 20 percent of WFP food items are sold by refugees so as to obtain other essential commodities (including different foods). What is not known, however, is the manner and scale of such trade and how this impacts upon the refugee community as a whole. The evaluation team believes it is necessary to have a much clearer picture of the internal economy of the refugee camps and the external economy vis a vis Kenyan traders.


The team found it useful to designate three refugee categories based on wealth and access to resources: (i) those with trading opportunities, (ii) those with job opportunities and (iii) those with no income opportunities. It is clear that those in a relatively higher earning bracket are few2. A strategy of discriminatory food distribution is simply not feasible because (a) the most vulnerable form a large majority, (b) although not a tested hypothesis, resistance to discriminatory food distribution may provoke security incidents and (c) the social dynamics of the camps would probably 'rebalance' food distribution in such a way that the most vulnerable would be no better off.

Targeting food through alternative mechanisms such as food-for-work - including, for instance, skills development and environmental improvement - might, nevertheless, be possible on a limited scale. The scope for pilot projects of this kind is more apparent in Kakuma than in Dadaab. For example, water catchment projects for extending vegetable gardens is an area in which the Sudanese community in particular might benefit. However, any infrastructural improvement works should be undertaken with the close co-operation and involvement of the local Kenyan authorities and efforts made to include the most destitute Turkana in such schemes.

Income generation

To obtain non-food items refugees must sell part of their food rations. Most of the NGO training programmes are not geared towards 'marketable' skills within the camps, but rather towards employment skills 'upon return'. The production of low-cost basic items such as shoes, clothes, soap, etc. has not been a priority. Skills training should be reoriented in this direction, with some incentives provided for those participating in training.

Refugees and the local population

Since the establishment in 1991 of the Kakuma refugee settlement the local population has grown from about 5,000 to 30- 40,000. In Dadaab, the population has grown from about 800 in 1992 to more than 10,000 (18,000 in the district as a whole) today. In Dadaab, ethnic allegiances (usually along clan lines) and related trading has ensured something of a symbiosis between camp and local populations. This is not the case in Kakuma. Here, the local Turkana population, following years of successive drought and lack of investment in infrastructure, are considerably worse off than refugees. Indeed, food distribution in Kakuma creates a magnet for Turkana pastoralists (particularly women and children) keen to benefit from small-scale labour, petty trading and even begging.

The environmental damage caused by refugee settlement in Kakuma may have been more severe than in Dadaab. WFP's Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Unit in September 1999 concluded that food-for-work projects in areas such as reforestation, water management and sanitation would improve conditions for the local population while lessening tensions between them and the refugees.

Show footnotes

1Summary Evaluation Report of the Joint WFP/UNHCR Evaluation Mission for PRO 4961.04 "Assistance to Somali and Sudanese Refugees in Kenya"

2The SCF-UK Food Economy Updates indicate that this group has increased in the last three years to about 10-15 percent.

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Reference this page

Joint WFP/UNHCR evaluation of Kenyan refugee programme. Field Exchange 12, April 2001. p24.



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