Designing settlements for integrated self-reliance.

In 2015 a new refugee settlement was created in the Turkana area of Kenya. National and international partners agreed that the settlement would be designed with an emphasis on promoting integrated self-reliance for refugees and the host community. A multi-agency collaboration was to develop the Kalobeyei Integrated Social and Economic Development Programme (KISEDP) to support the local economy and set up service delivery at the Kalobeyei site. The aims would be to have shared access to social provision and a common market place. Although the trajectory of the project has since adapted to accommodate the influx of South Sudanese refugees, it offers a unique opportunity to study the creation of a newly designed and ‘innovative’ refugee camp design.

In collaboration with the World Food Programme, we are following South Sudanese and Somali refugees in both Kakuma and Kalobeyei to examine what difference the new camp design makes to refugee self-reliance and food security. Our approach is based on both qualitative and quantitative data collection across three different periods of data collection. The work aims to explore what difference ‘design’ makes in comparison to a longstanding ‘organic’ camp structure and to provide specific insights relevant to improving programming in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. In order to achieve these goals, we have collected baseline data on self-reliance and the socio-economic conditions of refugees living in Kalobeyei and Kakuma, and are monitoring changes over a three year period.



Kalobeyei: an innovative approach to refugee settlement?


In July 2018, we published a new report entitled Self-Reliance in Kalobeyei? Socio-Economic Outcomes for Refugees in North-West Kenya. It represents the first output of a three-year research project being conducted in collaboration with the World Food Programme.

Kalobeyei is a newly designed refugee settlement, a short distance from the Kakuma refugee camps in Turkana County, Kenya. It is pioneering in allowing refugees and host community members to interact and live alongside one another, while promoting a self-reliance model of assistance. The Kalobeyei settlement was conceived in 2015 by the Government of Turkana County and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It opened in 2016 and now hosts nearly 40,000 refugees. UNHCR has described the approach as exemplifying its new global approach to refugee assistance, based on an integrated development model.

Our research is focusing on newly arrived refugees from South Sudan in both Kalobeyei (closer to a ‘self-reliance model’) and Kakuma (closer to an ‘aid model’), as well as recent arrivals from Burundi and Ethiopia in Kalobeyei. It is based on a representative sample of over 2500 refugee, who we will follow over three waves of data collection, in order to assess the trajectory of the Kalobeyei model compared to the Kakuma model. The possibility to follow recent arrivals from the same community within two different assistance models represents an unprecedented research opportunity; effectively a ‘natural experiment’.

The findings from our baseline research show that, despite the unexpected arrival and settlement of large numbers of South Sudanese, Kalobeyei has retained a significant commitment to self-reliance. The settlement’s physical planning and design cater for subsistence agriculture and establish designated business areas.  Other innovative interventions have included cash-based food assistance called Bamba Chakula (‘get your food’ in Swahili) and, more recently, the world’s first ‘cash for shelter’ project, giving money to allow refugees to be involved in the design and construction of shelter.

The data in the report is organised around measures relating to five sets of indicators of self-reliance outcomes: sustainable well-being, economic activities, access to public goods, access to markets, and access to networks.

Recent arrivals in Kalobeyei already have incomes almost twice as high as that of new arrivals in Kakuma, and levels of food security are higher. These outcomes are at least partly attributable to the cash assistance and agricultural programmes. However, during the same period there were ration cuts in Kakuma, therefore, this will need verification with follow-up studies.  In some areas, though, newly arrived refugees do better in Kakuma: notably in relation to community participation and asset accumulation. These differences appear to be due to some of the advantages of a long-established community structure versus the inherent challenge of creating ‘community’ within newly designed settlements.

It is too early to make definitive judgements about the impact of self-reliance programmes in Kalobeyei. However, the baseline data reveals that refugees in both Kalobeyei and Kakuma are currently far from self-reliant. Significant constraints remain in creating functioning labour markets, access to finance, functional infrastructure, and freedom of movement, for example. Ultimately, creating self-reliance will rely upon major investment in the entire economy of Turkana County.

The report offers specific policy recommendations for improving self-reliance in Kalobeyei. These include: exploring the feasibility of large-scale agriculture;  examining the viability of a livestock market;  improving transportation between Kakuma and Kalobeyei; enhancing access to savings and credit for refugees and citizens; creating more direct dialogue between international agencies and the local Turkana population; considering options for more predictable electricity supply; adopting a gendered approach to self-reliance; and assessing the relative strength of Bamba Chakula compared to unrestricted cash-assistance.


Funding: WFP

Fieldwork: Naohiko Omata, Olivier Sterck