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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Preventing a water crisis in a camp for the displaced in Georgia

© UNICEF video
A boy washes his feet at a camp in Gori, Georgia, where recent questions about the safety of the water supply have led to swift corrective action by UNICEF and its partners.

By Dorn Townsend

GENEVA, Switzerland, 3 October 2008 – The rumours began shortly after the conflict in and around South Ossetia, Georgia, ended in early September. The water in the Gori camp wasn't safe, they said. The enemy was poisoning the water supply. Children were getting sick.

These wild stories were quickly corrected. But subsequent tests confirmed that while the city's water supply appeared safe, its quality still conformed to Cold War era, Eastern Block standards. Those quality standards aren't as rigorous as the international norms that UNICEF supports.

Further investigation revealed another surprise: The city's chlorine supply, which is necessary for ridding water of harmful bacteria, would run out in a matter of days.

Taking immediate action

© UNICEF video
Displaced families in Gori rely on their camp’s water supply for drinking and washing, so water safety is vital to maintaining the overall health of camp residents.

“In emergency situations like this, in crowded urban settings, it is more essential than ever to ensure the supply of safe water,” said UNICEF Georgia’s Head of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, James Shepherd-Barron. “Without proper treatment, contaminated water could quickly see outbreaks of water-borne disease, which would have serious consequences for the children in this camp.”

UNICEF and its partners are taking immediate action to ensure that water supplies in the Gori camp remain safe. Additional chlorine is being dripped into the water supply to raise the quality up to international norms. UNICEF has also rushed more chlorine to the city to make sure water quality remains high.

New filtration center pledged

While the international community has pledged to build Gori a new water filtration center, it won't be ready until at least 2010. Until then, UNICEF and its partners are working with the government to monitor water safety levels.

“This kind of preventive intervention can make all the difference to incidences of diarrhoea in children under five,” said UNICEF Representative in Georgia Giovanna Barberis. “The challenge now is to sustain these efforts through the winter and the coming months.”





22 September 2008: UNICEF correspondent Roshni Karwal reports on the precarious water supply at a camp for the displaced in Gori.
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