Refugees fetching water from the taps
By Gideon Kiberu
All over the world, dirty water is a serious cause of diseases among the people who use it. Exposure to unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene is a leading cause of cholera and a variety of infectious and tropical diseases in Africa.
Dirty water leads to the spread and contracting of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and many others that have claimed the lives of millions of people throughout the centuries, even in this modern age with sophistication in technology.
According to The Water Project, 783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, 319 million people have no access to improved reliable drinking water, and in developing countries, 80 percent of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation.
According to Water.org, 61 percent of Ugandans lack access to safe water and 75 percent do not have access to improved sanitation facilities.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention states that improved water, sanitation and hygiene has the potential to prevent at least 9.1 percent of the global disease burden and 6.3 percent of all deaths.
In Bidibidi refugee settlement located in Yumbe district close to Ugandas border with South Sudan, where 227,000 refugees from South Sudan reside, dirty water and itS negative effects will soon be a tale in the past. This is due to new solar powered water supply projects that have been installed in various zones to provide clean safe water to both the refugees and host communities in the area.
Fidel Adebo, the headmaster of Alaba Primary School in Bidibidi, a school with over 3,000 students, over 80 percent of them refugees, said that before this new water supply project was set up, the area was bedevilled with inadequate water supply due to a higher demand for water than the supply. The students in this school had to walk long miles to fetch water to be used at home and in the school, he said, hence contributing to low levels of sanitation. There were few water boreholes, yet there was an influx of new residents needing to use the facilities. The distances to the water points were also very long, usually several kilometers. To add salt to injury, host community members and refugees frequently brawled at water points over the little water available. These various challenges combined led to low levels of sanitation in the area and hatred among the people.
In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), noticing that scarcity of clean safe water could spark off epidemics, started sponsoring solar powered water projects in the different zones
First, the organizations identify underground water sources and set up water pumps. These water pumps are then powered by solar panels that collect energy from the sun. Solar power is more accessible in this area where there is no hydroelectricity. Generators have also been added to stand in when the solar power is not available. Thirty-nine pipe water networks have also been installed to connect and supply water to the various villages of both the refugees and hosting communities. Taps have also been put in place, and now majority of the area is supplied with safe and clean water.
In addition to the solar powered water projects, the various organizations have installed 144 hand pumps across the settlement to ensure adequate water supply. In public places such as schools and health centers, water tanks were erected to store and supply safe and clean water along with taps.
Since the project began, the water supply in Bidibidi has been improved up to 99.96 percent, according to the UNHCR WASH sector update June 2019. This progress has reduced sanitation related diseases such as cholera, typhoid and others, according to UNHCR. Furthermore, the water projects have fostered peace between the host community and the refugees, since they share water sources that have abundant supplies. Engineer Ochaya Richard, Head of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at UNHCR, said that on average each person now has access to at least 17 liters of safe clean water in Bidibidi per day. This is enough for bathing, drinking, and other activities.
Milly Tabu, a mother to 8 children and a refugee from South Sudan since 2016, praised the water projects in her area. She says now she no longer has to be an enemy to the host community over water. She added that now she can get water any time she wants without having to walk several miles from home or lining up in long endless queues.
However, much still needs to be done to ensure 100 percent supply of safe and clean water in Bidibidi, according to WASH actors. There are limited water facilities in public places such as schools, health centers and markets due to limited funding from the sponsors. There is also pipe water leakage due to damages on the water system pipe networks, causing shortages of water in some areas. The water from the taps is also sometims still lacking in cleanliness, as one of the refugees mentioned said below.