UNDP invests in livelihoods to ease tensions in northern Kenya

from UN Development Programme
Published on 12 Dec 2011 View Original

With the famine in Somalia sparking an increased flow of refugees into neighbouring Kenya, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is scaling up its programmes to help improve the living conditions in the northern part of the country.

More than 360,000 refugees from different neighbouring countries are hosted in two camps – Kakuma in the northwest and Dadaab in the northeast. While the refugees receive some international assistance in the camps, the shortfall is met with resources shared with the host communities, sparking conflict between the residents and the refugees over commodities such as water, pasture, firewood and vegetables.

Northern Kenya is arid, and prone to drought and flash floods. Local host communities – predominantly nomadic pastoralists – lack basic infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, and struggle to find enough food and water. For the past four years, UNDP and other UN agencies have been working with the Kenyan government to increase access to work, and services like water and education for local residents.

The Japan-supported Joint Host Community Project improves living conditions for the local residents, lays the foundation for their ability to cope in the face of future droughts, and eases tensions with the refugees. This is even more urgent given that some 3.8 million Kenyans have also been affected by drought during 2011.

For the scale-up, the UN is working to engage approximately 300,000 people in activities related to rain water harvesting for domestic and agricultural purposes, micro credit loans for youth and women groups, and improvement of water and sanitation facilities, particularly around Kakuma.

“We have no time to lose,” said UNDP Resident Representative Aeneas C. Chuma. “We must invest more in drought-resistant farming, improved livestock management, and more efficient water management so people are better prepared to cope, now and in the future.”

Since the programme began in 2007, some 18,000 people living outside the camps have had better access to water, through new shallow wells and other water harvesting and storage means. Ebrahim Hussein Sheikh is a local herder close to the mainly Somali-populated Dadaab refugee camp. He says that life changed once the water ponds were set up.

“Before, we used to rely on a community borehole five kilometeres away that could only accommodate 1,000 animals. We frequently fought among ourselves to ensure our animals could drink the little water available.”

To improve access to food and income generation activities, 15,000 people were provided tools and seeds to engage in specialist farming activities suited to the arid conditions. Now, communities around the refugee camps grow diverse crops such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes and kale, with enough left over to sell.

Local Agricultural Officer Alvas Lusweti says some in the pastoralist communities were initially resistant to changing their means of livelihood, but were quick to change their minds when they saw the benefits that crop farming can bring. “People have realized that agriculture is more predictable, less risky and can provide a steady flow of income,” says Lusweti.

The two-year scale-up programme will also focus on strengthening local institutions responsible for recovery and disaster risk reduction initiatives. The aim is to work with communities so they can initiate and manage their own recovery processes, while improving the ability of local governments to support these efforts and the communities’ longer term development goals.


  • The Joint Host Community Programme (JHCP) started in 2007 and is supported by Japan and the United Nations. It works to improve resources for poor communities in and around northern Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

  • The programme supports sustainable livelihoods and reduces pressures that exacerbate conflict by helping host communities use natural resources and specialist farming techniques to make the most of the arid conditions.