Media Centre

Press releases

Feature stories

Photo essays

Reporting guidelines

Media contact


Tanzania, 9 July 2015: Improving access to water for refugees

By Anthea Rowan

With an influx of new refugees from Burundi, providing water for more than 120,000 camp residents in Tanzania becomes a critical challenge for UNICEF and its partners.

9 July 2015, KIGOMA, Tanzania – Dozens of children scamper excitedly towards any vehicle that arrives in Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Tanzania. They know its occupants will come loaded with bottled water. It’s the empty bottles the children are after.

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
Residents fill buckets at a water point in Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Tanzania. Water supply has become critically low as the camp population has grown to more than 120,000.

Collecting water is an integral part of daily life in the camp, and everybody is expected to help – whether a mother with a bucket perfectly balanced on her head, or the child walking in her shadow, clutching a plastic bottle in two small hands.

Nyarugusu camp was designed to accommodate 50,000 people, but it now hosts more than 120,000. The new extension at Nyarugusu Camp, known as Zone 8, is home to more than 66,000 refugees – over 60 per cent of them children – who fled growing violence in Burundi.

The camp’s water supply is severely overextended, and available quantities per person are at critically low levels.

Women and children stand at water points waiting patiently to fill bottles and multi-coloured plastic buckets; a child shuffles the buckets neatly along, keeping her mother’s place in the queue.

It can be a long wait: Despite efforts to keep tanks refilled, water supply is erratic, and water pressure is frequently low.

Meeting the minimum

“In 2012, the average allowance per person in this camp was generous, around thirty litres a day. Even directly before the influx of the new arrivals, it was still above twenty,” says John Adolf, Water Quality Manager at Tanzania Water and Environmental Sanitation, a UNICEF partner. “It’s much, much less than that now.”

UNICEF and its partners strive to meet the minimum water requirements: 15 litres per person per day during the outset of an emergency, 20 litres per person per day once the situation has stabilized.

Evalyne Nyaseni, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Specialist at UNICEF, says that while some older areas of the camp have reasonable access to water, access is poor in Zone 8, where each collective tent accommodates 150 people, and 1,800 individuals must manage on just 5,000 litres a day.

“Do the maths,” she says. “That’s less than three litres per person daily. I don’t want to imagine what an even more compromised water supply situation would mean to the refugee population here.”

“The daily routine of so many children has been disrupted as they fled Burundi. Fear forced thousands of children to seek refuge in unfamiliar environments,” says UNICEF Tanzania Representative Dr. Jama Gulaid. “Some of the children are separated from their families; some are sick; most have not had the chance to play for weeks; and those who attended school in Burundi have no place to go when they wake up in the morning.”

© UNICEF Tanzania/2015/Beechey
In the newest section of the camp, residents must rely on less than three litres per day, far below the required minimum.

UNICEF’s mission, he explains, is “to protect these children and create opportunities that speed up the return to normalcy.”

Critical response

To compound the challenges of insufficient water storage, there are additional difficulties: one of the boreholes is out of action and under repair. The other primary borehole, which supplies 75 per cent of the camp’s requirements, is working full time. It would be catastrophic if it were to break down. Additionally, despite there being three pumps available to draw water from a nearby river, there is only one transmission line, so it is not possible to use more than one pump at a time.

Meanwhile, overcrowding and overstretching of water and sanitation services have created conditions that are potentially favourable for the spread of disease.

UNICEF, with its partner the Tanzania Red Cross Society, is working hard to supplement water storage within the camp and has supplied seven bladder tanks – an emergency storage solution – which can hold a total of 103,000 litres. In addition, UNICEF has transported another five tanks to Nyarugusu camp with similar capacity.

UNICEF's efforts to deliver water to Burundian families and children form a critical part of the response to the emergency. This complex task ranges from repairing and replacing pumps to delivering chlorine, trucking in water by road and bringing jerry cans and water purification tablets to refugee families living in shelters.

Kiwe Sebunya, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF Tanzania, meets the challenge with optimism.

“It is a difficult one, but it will get done.”



 Email this article

unite for children