COVID-19 in refugee camps: overcoming the crisis through self-help

Refugees are suffering particularly badly under the pandemic. In Kenya, their skills are helping to alleviate its effects.

The threat presented by COVID-19 is particularly acute in refugee camps. The risk of infection is high in such crowded conditions, while at the same time, the capacity for providing medical care is very limited. On top of this, closed borders and disrupted supply chains are threatening to cause shortfalls in food supplies. 

The camp in Kakuma in north-western Kenya, which houses almost 200,000 refugees, and the neighbouring refugee settlement in Kalobeyei are among those struggling with these challenges. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been supporting refugees and their host communities here since 2015. Working on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), its approach is always to support people in making their own contribution to improving their situation. This also holds true during the pandemic. Back in February, four greenhouses had already been constructed in the camps. Local people and refugees learned how to cultivate vegetables using a hydroponic system needing little water or fertiliser. Their first harvest was a success, making fresh food available on the ground despite the disruption to supply chains caused by the pandemic. To ensure this continues, seven further greenhouses are now being constructed. The produce harvested will keep 120,000 people supplied with additional vegetables for six months.

In addition, people are manufacturing protective masks and disinfectant and training to become health advisors – thereby making a contribution to reducing the risk of COVID-19 infections in the camps. The energy supply is another target for independent solutions. Two solar energy stations have already been installed in Kalobeyei for the purpose of supplying electricity to two hospitals and four schools. In the event of COVID-19 infections, suspected cases can now not only receive initial medical care in the hospitals but also be quarantined in the school buildings. Here, too, these developments are based on existing structures. Before the pandemic, training had already been conducted specifically for solar technicians. These technicians are now playing a part in securing the electricity supply for the schools and clinics. 

In the countries of the Global South in particular, large numbers of people are still under threat from the spread of COVID-19 – especially in the cramped conditions of refugee camps and slums. GIZ is working as hard as it can to use its existing activities as a springboard for action to counteract the spread of the virus. One of the key aspects of this is involving people locally and using their skills. Training measures like these have an important role to play in containing the risks and impacts of COVID-19 over the long term.

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