A steep shortfall in donor funding for refugee services in Kenya and other host countries is leading the United Nations to seek new ways of aiding the nearly 400,000 Somalis and South Sudanese living in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $231 million (Sh23.7 billion) this year to cover its operations in Kenya. But as of early November donor countries had provided only $66 million (Sh6.7 billion), or less than one-third of the required sum.
Asked to suggest reasons for that wide gap, UNHCR spokeswoman Yvonne Ndege said "donors sometimes shift resources to ongoing emergencies around the globe where displaced persons are in need of more urgent life-saving services."
Protracted situations such as in Kenya, where the Dadaab complex opened in 1991, are consequently experiencing funding reductions, Ms Ndege added in an email.
"Funds have been diminishing globally, and Kenya's funding situation is not actually uncommon," she noted.
In response, UNHCR is "shifting its focus from a purely humanitarian- based approach to initiating ideas, projects and solutions that foster self-reliance and innovation among refugees," the Nairobi-based official wrote. "So it's not a case of what we can no longer provide. It's pushing and promoting socio-economic empowerment of refugees that's very much the agenda now."
Refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma are nonetheless feeling the impact of the drop in funding.
The UN's World Food Programme announced last month that it is cutting food rations by 30 per cent for inhabitants of the Kenyan camps due to insufficient donor assistance.
WFP said it "urgently" needs $28.5 million to provide adequate food aid for refugees in Kenya for the next six months.
UNHCR acknowledged earlier that it plans to close its Alinjugur field office in Dadaab by next March.
Overall, the UN budget for the Dadaab complex has fallen by 70 per cent since 2011, a rate of contraction that outpaces the nearly 50 percent decline in Dadaab's population during the same period.
UN refugee officials are turning to Africans to compensate for at least some of the shortfall in assistance from rich countries.
An initiative known as LuQuLuQu is being launched in Kenya and five other African countries to encourage private donations to refugee programmes.
"The negative shift [in donor aid] calls for new home-grown ideas for refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers on our doorstep," Ms Ndege said at a LuQuLuQu roll-out event in Nairobi.
Another, bigger UN effort to make up for the funding deficiency goes under the heading of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.