By Paige Dearing

The worst drought and famine in more than 60 years has placed strain on humanitarian agencies working in Dadaab, Kenya and calls for better-coordinated relief efforts. The crisis has threatened the livelihood of 9.5 million people in the Horn of Africa since early 2011. Refugees from Somalia continue to arrive in Kenya by the tens of thousands, making the Dadaab complex now the world’s largest refugee camp ever with almost 500,000 counted and perhaps as many as 100,000 more unregistered. Responding aid organizations are stretched to their limits as they try and provide critical life-sustaining services such as food, housing, sanitation and medical relief to those in Dadaab. To make matters even more difficult, Somali-based terrorist organization al Shebaab recently escalated activities in and around the camps. Security has been heightened to ensure the safety of contractors, staff and refugees.

To answer the pressing challenges encountered by agencies working in the Dadaab camp, NetHope, Inveneo and Cisco came together to create a new collaboration network that enables humanitarian agencies to function better, to communicate better with other organizations and to better support operations.

Called DadaabNET, the high-speed network is supported by multiple Kenyan service providers and connects Dadaab agencies locally for file sharing, Cisco-designed video conferencing and VoIP telephony applications. This network is equipped with a Cisco router based failover configuration that protects against network connection downtime.

The project began in September 2011 when USAID’s Global Broadband and Innovations Chief of Party sent NetHope’s Connectivity and Emergency Response directors to Dadaab to evaluate the potential to improve and reduce the cost of connectivity for the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations operating in the region. NetHope then invited Inveneo and Cisco Tactical Operations (TacOps) to identify opportunities to collaborate and deliver better, more reliable Internet and interagency communication.

After a NetHope-Inveneo team traveled to Dadaab to assess the situation in detail, it was determined that if Inveneo and TacOps could install and configure a local high-speed network, the Dadaab organizations could immediately begin to more effectively collaborate and share information. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), operating as the lead agency working in the region, had implemented a network initiative for smaller NGOs and community centers in the area, so NetHope and its partners recognized the need for any new solution to be compatible, complimentary and synergistic with this existing network.

With a commitment from Cisco to donate equipment and commitments from USAID, Microsoft and UNHCR for funding, the team moved forward.

Data Delivered

Using its long-distance WiFi solution, Inveneo extended new data services into the Dadaab compound with partner Orange, a local Kenyan mobile and landline telecommunications service provider. NetHope aggregated the demand for the new service among the Dadaab aid community and Orange committed to a preferred pricing arrangement as well as adequate initial and ongoing capacity. Orange intends to triple available capacity over the next 60 days to keep pace with demand and to meet new service order expectations.

To make this possible, Orange provided highly reliable Internet connectivity through backhaul from their existing Dadaab tower to international fiber networks. Inveneo designed the local distribution network and training plan to enable Orange and prequalified Dadaab IT staff to quickly grasp, support and connect to the new solution. World Food Programme also provided the logistical support to get the equipment required for the project to Dadaab via our aircraft and truck fleets as well as assisting with clearances from the authorities to get some items into the country.

NetHope, Inveneo, Inveneo’s local partner SetRight Technologies and Cisco’s local gold partner Dimension Data traveled to Dadaab in March to train NGO, Orange and UNHCR staff on network tower installation and router configuration. The newly trained DadaabNET team successfully installed implementations at ten agency locations and now retains full ownership of the network’s maintenance and troubleshooting.

Next Steps to Reach the Community

This connectivity is already enabling the humanitarian agencies to perform better. Dadaab-based agencies are able to purchase bandwidth from multiple Kenya service provides at highly discounted rates, based on negotiations made by NetHope. Agencies have the option to move costly VSAT systems to failover mode, meaning they are only used in the event of network failure.

The next step is to bring IP telephony, conferencing web services, cloud computing and sustainable community outreach education centers to the Dadaab community. As the new network architecture is tried and proven to be more reliable and cost effective, it will be extended to the general population via sustainable outreach community centers that support learning, resettlement and economic empowerment.

The Inveneo, Cisco and NetHope partnership, fortified and proven successful during earlier collaborations in Haiti and elsewhere, is now expanding to embrace a broader alliance with USAID, UNHCR, WFP, Microsoft and others. The Haiti and Dadaab models have the necessary parts and momentum to rapidly bring sustainable rural broadband connectivity and value-added applications to scale in selected underserved communities.

Inveneo, Cisco, NetHope and Orange will also continue to grow their partnership and collaboration so that there will be ever increasing opportunities to extend the broadband across rural Kenya and beyond.

The Dadaab Connect project is funded by USAID’s Global Broadband Innovations partnership with NetHope, Inveneo’s Broadband for Good Program, Microsoft, Cisco, UNHCR, Craig Newmark and the Orr Foundation.

Filed Under: Connectivity and Infrastructure