Trapped in Transition

A photograph of the author, Austin Bailey.

By Austin Bailey

July 19, 2012

As home to roughly 465,000 people, the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya is the largest refugee camp in the world. It has a population equivalent to that of Kansas City, Mo., but at a tightly packed 31 square miles, the entire camp sits on roughly the same area allotted to a single off-the-grid tribesman in the Brazilian Amazon.

Refugees continue to trickle in, most of them Somalians fleeing hunger and conflict, while older residents now consider the camp their long-term home after living there for a decade or more. So what does life in this accidental city look like?

The BBC posted a slideshow this week to show us. Some of the photos capture the mundane, like the shot of Asha Mohamed, who runs a beauty shop inside the camp. Others depict the privation that promises to worsen as the camp recedes from the public eye and donations slow. In one shot, a mother sits on the floor of her house crafted from  plastic bags, her two bleary-eyed sons with her clearly in poor health.

Faced with real threats of kidnapping, aid workers and journalists are avoiding Dadaab, a factor that will almost certainly add to residents' hardships.

As Dadaab's population continues to rise, Heifer International is working in the drought-addled region, planning projects that will help people in the Horn of Africa weather future crises.