How to set-up WASH services in a refugee camp?

Imad Eldin Hasan, the Water & Environmental Sanitation Officer responsible for the Tigray refugee response in Eastern Sudan walks us through the detailed steps based on his experience working in the three refugee camps in Gedaref state.

Florine Bos
Tigray picture
27 February 2022

Imad Eldin Hasan, the Water & Environmental Sanitation Officer responsible for the Tigray refugee response in Eastern Sudan walks us through the detailed steps based on his experience working in the three refugee camps in Gedaref state.

Step 1:

Before the first refugees arrived in Sudan from Ethiopia, UNICEF was prepared thanks to the prepositioning of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) emergency supplies. Such supplies include bladders for the storage of water, chlorine and water quality monitoring kits, slabs for emergency latrines, and hygiene supplies (including household hygiene kits/ dignity kits, soap, jerry cans). To respond to the first urgent water needs of the newly arrived children and their families, UNICEF ensured water trucking. This is an alternative water source when other, more sustainable sources cannot be found. Trucking is especially useful in emergency situations, such as the sudden arrival of people displaced by conflict. UNICEF has provided water storage facilities (with distribution system) in reception centers of Hamdayet and Village 8, and in addition, water trucking was provided in the two refugee camps (Um Rakoba and Tunaydbah).

Step 2:

Once the location for the first refugee camp (Um Rakoba) was determined, UNICEF and partners did a thorough assessment to determine the water sources for the camp, learning about soil quality, ground water availability and potential yield, and existing water sources for rehabilitation. In the meantime, UNICEF and WASH sector partners installed temporary water storage facilities (bladders) across Um Rakoba for storing improved water delivered by trucking. The water bladders in the camp (initially 10 installed, and 5 added throughout 2021) were largely full of water and ready before the refugees first arrived. In a long-term response, UNICEF and its partners constructed three boreholes and are finalizing the replacement of the old pipeline in the camp.

The situation in Tunaydbah was very different as there was no groundwater available in the area, only surface water. Therefore, UNICEF and WASH sector partners established temporary treatment plants providing 500 cubic liters of water per day. (UNICEF/MSF – 300m³/day and SRCS – 200m³/day). UNICEF also supported the construction of the water network in the camp, including an elevated tank (out of three tanks, one was done by CARE and another one by WHH) and 72 distribution points with a total of 432 taps with 6 taps in each distribution point. Currently, the only water trucking ongoing is to transfer water from the elevated tanks to the new extension settlements. People benefit from 20 liters of water per day, for 25,000 people living in the camp.

The impact is that refugees receive clean, uncontaminated water, preventing water-borne disease outbreaks, like cholera. The camp has not recorded a single cholera case.

tigray refugee camp
Child fetches water in Tunaydbah refugee camp in Gedaref

Step 3:

A third, and important step to consider, is the social-behavioral aspect of the WASH response. For example, gender-based violence remains a risk when women and girls collect water or use latrines in the night. By focusing on safe access to WASH services, women and children will not only be protected from violence but also from malnutrition and disease (for example, clean water and toilets will prevent diarrhea, as well as resulting malnutrition). Furthermore, with the construction of gender-sensitive latrines and menstrual hygiene awareness at schools, daughters will have the opportunity to go to school safely, even during their menstrual cycle.

The latrines that were built in Um Rakoba and Tunaydbah camps, protect girls and women from gender-based violence as they are in close proximity of the shelters. During the early response phase, UNICEF provided 100 solar-powered streetlights to ensure safe access to shared latrines in Hamdayet and Um Rakoba camp. UNICEF also constructed toilets at the primary school in Tunaydbah to help girls to stay in school.

Another issue is providing host communities with WASH services to prevent conflict between the refugees and their host communities. When refugees first arrived in Um Rakoba camp, they retrieved water from nearby Doka town, which caused tensions. UNICEF constructed two boreholes for the surrounding host communities, and a new pipeline from the elevated water tank in the camp was extended to the host community, so that both communities have equal access to clean water.

To ensure the safe water quality, UNICEF supported operation and maintenance of water system in Hamdayet for over 8 months until early February 2022. The support includes regular test of water quality and chlorination of stored water in case of chlorine residual less than 0.5mg/liter at the point of delivery. In case of turbid water, polymers are used to reduce turbidity below 5NTU. While UNICEF supports running costs including spare parts, fuel, operators’ salary and so on in Hamdayet, other WASH partners are supporting other locations with similar arrangement. For distribution of supplies, the beneficiary list for the household hygiene kits (containing items such as bucket, washing powder, soap, sanitary pads and child potty) has been developed by the GBV subsector to prioritize women and girls most in need, and NFI sector’s coordination forum was used to organize the kit distribution. The running of WASH systems and WASH response in all refugee locations cannot be done without very close cooperation with all existing WASH partners on the ground.