WFP Insight: Refugees face testing times in Kenya; Resources are stretched to the limit as camps fill up

Minutes before the UN Humanitararian Air Service (UNHAS) plane touches down at Kakuma airstrip, the refugee camp sprawls before your eyes, stretching far over the harsh landscape of northern Kenya. The heat hits you like a wall when leaving the aircraft — it’s 9 o’clock in the morning and the temperature is already close to 30°C . Opened in 1991 and hosting nearly 200,000 people, Kakuma Camp is today one of the largest refugee camps in Africa.

Kuso Mohammed receives her monthly food assistance from WFP. In addition, she also receives a small amount of cash with which she can choose fresh produce for her family. Photo: WFP/ Jonathan Eng

Kuso Mohammed arrived here 25 years ago, when she was only eight years old. She hardly remembers anything from her life in Somalia. Her eight children and two grandchildren were all born in the camp. They have never seen anywhere else but Kakuma. Returning to Somalia is not possible for several reasons including the ongoing insecurity. Kakuma camp provides safety and feels more like a city than a traditional camp. Kuso’s kids can go to school and her husband has been able to get a job at one of the health clinics in the camp.

“Life in the camp is okay, it goes on. The food from the World Food Programme really helps and my husband has a job at one of the clinics in the camp. His salary makes life a little bit easier. He earns around 5,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$50) a month,’’ Kuso says.

WFP provides food assistance to refugees in Kenya as a combination of food (cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, and nutrient-enriched flour) and cash transfers sent via mobile phones, with the latter used to buy fresh food from local traders. However, lack of funding means that since October 2017 WFP has had to cut the quantity of food it hands out. Refugees now only receive 70 percent of the normal food rations.

Kuso has no other source for food. Other than her husband’s small salary, she and her family are completely reliant on WFP’s food assistance. They have felt the effects of receiving smaller food rations, but she says that they get by on what they have.

Kuso Mohammed’s home is simple. There is one only one room with one bed for the whole family. The kitchen is shared with several other families. Kuso prepares the dinner — beans that she received from WFP. Photo: WFP/ Jonathan Eng

“I do not have any plans for my future. We are stuck here.”

After Kuso has collected the food for the month, she carries it home. The walk feels longer when you’re carrying a month’s ration of food on your back in 40°C heat. She lives with her family in a small house made from mud, wood, old oil cans and a metal roof.

They have one bedroom and a small kitchen that they share with two other families. Kuso shows us around — proud of what she has and of the two small children running around our legs, looking curiously at what we are doing. Even though they are safe here, her husband has an income and they receive help from WFP, it is hard to plan for the future.

“I do not have any plans for my future. We are stuck here and we cannot leave. I feel very stressed about the situation,” she says.

Like their siblings, Kuso’s two youngest children were born in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Photos: WFP/ Jonathan Eng

Kenya has been home to refugees for many years but continued conflict in neighbouring countries has resulted in more people seeking refuge in the country. Twenty-six years after it opened, Kakuma camp continues to grow with at least 2,000 refugees arriving every month, mostly from South Sudan.

Assistance from WFP and other organizations has made sure that basic needs of the refugees are covered. But hope is difficult to provide in a crisis that seems to have been forgotten.

Flexible and reliable funds are among WFP’s most valued assets. Donors have been very supportive of Kenya’s refugee operations in the past and we hope they will continue to be so.

Multilateral funds allow WFP to determine where the money is needed most and helps mitigate operational disruptions caused by fluctuations in funding. Between 2015 and 2017, multilateral funds from donors including China, Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom were crucial in enabling WFP to prevent even greater ration cuts for refugees in Kenya.

Photo: WFP/ Jonathan Eng