The Hottest Mess on Earth
Dadaab Is East Africa’s Overstuffed Refugee Oasis
The sands of Dadaab have offered salvation for many who were previously destitute and starving.
While the lucky and privileged have spent 2011’s repulsively hot summer locked inside air-conditioned bedrooms, swirling ice cubes around their nipples and downing pitchers of Pimm’s, the Horn of Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years. Months have passed without even a few inches of rain, resulting in the type of famine most are only familiar with from myths and religious texts.
Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and other parts of East Africa have all experienced appalling levels of starvation, which, according to one USAID official, could result in the death of hundreds of thousands of children by fall. Many from the region have fled their homelands for Dadaab, one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in history. Dadaab is located in the Kenyan desert, approximately 60 miles from Somalia (home to “the worst humanitarian disaster” in the world, according to UN High Commissioner of Refugees António Guterres).
Technically composed of three camps—Hagadera, Ifo, and Dagahaley—Dadaab was established in 1991 with a maximum capacity of 90,000. The camp currently houses 400,000 displaced persons, with approximately 1,400 more arriving every day, half of whom are children. It is estimated that the area’s population will hit 500,000 by the end of the year. Some families have lived here for generations, producing offspring without documentation or a nation to call their own.
With the help of Doctors Without Borders, photographer James Mollison visited Dadaab in late July to take portraits of the large variety of people living in the region. James also photographed their homes, which many times consisted of dirt floors and fabric walls.
Watch a new episode of Picture Perfect featuring James and his work in Dadaab, premiering in September.