High-Speed Network Helps Residents of World’s Largest Refugee Camp

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High-Speed Network Helps Residents of World’s Largest Refugee Camp

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Cisco, NetHope, and Inveneo designed and installed a local high-speed network at Dadaab, world's largest refugee camp. http://3bl.me/4tge9m

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Photos courtesy NetHope.

Photos courtesy NetHope.

Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 3:40pm

By Alexis Raymond

In eastern Kenya, on a harsh landscape of sand, wind, sun, and little else, 500,000 people who have fled famine, drought, and military conflict in Somalia over the last 20 years struggle to survive in the world’s largest refugee camp.

Last summer, the worst famine in 60 years forced more than 1000 people each day to seek refuge in Dadaab, a camp originally designed to accommodate only 90,000. The residents of Dadaab face chronic overcrowding, disease, hunger, and seasonal floods. An estimated 10,000 refugees are “third-generation”-- they were born in Dadaab to parents who were also born there.

This sounds like a world in which technology is a luxury, not a need. But the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in Dadaab are stretched to their limits trying to provide food, housing, sanitation, and medical relief. They need technology, and Internet connectivity in particular, to coordinate their response efforts and provide lifesaving goods and services to the men, women, and children who need them.

Recently, Cisco and two of its long-time nonprofit partners, NetHope and Inveneo, designed and installed a local high-speed network at Dadaab that enables humanitarian relief organizations to communicate, coordinate, and function more effectively and efficiently.

Kevin MacRitchie, Cisco’s principle liaison with NetHope, compared the situation to “putting 500,000 people in the middle of Death Valley, California, and needing multi-bit servers where there isn’t even a cell phone connection.”

“DadaabNET” is a local area network (LAN) that responding NGOs share, potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars that can instead be used to provide relief services directly to residents. Previously, each responding NGO was relying on its own VSAT system--a two-way satellite commonly used to deliver Internet access to remote locations. These systems are typically slow, expensive, and require a high level of tech support. The VSAT systems are in the process of becoming positioned as emergency back-ups to the less-expensive terrestrial links and high-speed and more efficient DadaabNET.

NetHope Connectivity Director Joe Simmons, who traveled to Dadaab for the installation, said that in just a few weeks the new network is already enabling relief agencies to better function and communicate with one another.

Continue reading how the high-speed network helps residents of Dadaab.