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Safe water, good sanitation and hygiene beget a healthy living for South Sudan refugees

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

Elijah Ding, a 39 year old South Sudanese and hygiene promoter moves around his community sensitising the populace on the benefits of proper sanitation and hygiene. He does this on a daily basis ever since he was nominated by the community members, who speak so highly of him.

Mothers, fathers and their children have put in practice all that Ding has taught them, making his work very easy as a result of the trust he has earned. “As I speak now, am proud to say that all households in my area have latrines, tippy taps (locally made hand washing facilities) with soap, rubbish pits, drying racks, clean containers for storing water (both drinking and for daily use) and everyone is aware of the benefits of good sanitation and hygiene,” he boosts.

But the journey has been long! Rachel Dum, a mother of seven in the same refugee camp, agrees with Ding. “When we arrived in the camp, we had no latrines, we used the bush as toilets and my children had diarrhoea all the time, she mentions. “But with the knowledge from the hygiene promoters, our lives have improved and my children don’t fall sick as often as they used to,” she adds.

“Two years ago, the moment you arrived in our camp, you would be welcomed by a stench, open defecation was very common. But this is no more, all households in the community have latrines, with hand washing facilities and are aware of the dangers of the practice. This has greatly contributed to the reduction of sanitation related illnesses in the camp,” Elijah narrates. “We also received a solution known as EMO (efficient micro-organisms) that we pour in the latrines to eliminate the bad smell,” he adds. 

Rachel and Elijah are among thousands of South Sudanese refugees that are benefitting from the sanitation and hygiene promotion campaign funded by European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) in Ayilo I refugee camp in Adjumani Districts.

Among the things that Rachel learnt from the hygiene promoters and which she has instilled in all her children is hand washing with soap especially at the most critical times like after using the toilet, before preparing food, before eating and after cleaning a baby’s bottom. The benefits of this practice are enormous and she encourages other mothers to wash their hands often.

“Hands touch everywhere, therefore whenever one is going to eat, prepare and serve food, breastfeed, always wash your hands, she stresses.

No wonder her home is one of the model homes that are visited by other refugees who want to learn more about good sanitation and hygiene.

Elijah agrees with her, adding that a simple habit of hand washing with soap has changed the lives of many refugees in this camp. I ensured that all households build a tippy tap next to their latrine to promote hand washing.

However, Elijah mentions that the improved sanitation and hygiene practices in his community were being compromised by the lack of clean and safe water. Some households were using unsafe water exposing them to possibilities of acquiring water borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

According to Rachel, the boreholes and water tanks were far from their homes, increasing the burden of fetching water especially by the women and children so some households resorted to fetching water from unsafe sources. 

“This has since been solved,” Elijah says with a beam. UNICEF with funding from ECHO has provided motorised water to the refugee community.

The mothers and children cannot hide the excitement. “The water is near, it is very clean and easily available. We don’t have to walk long distances in search of clean and safe water,” asserts Rachel.

According to officials from the Water Missions, a survey that was done, indicated that typhoid and diarrhoea were the most common diseases among children and women in the camp. Therefore with improved hygiene, clean and safe water, their lives will improve greatly.

UNICEF’s Noramou Fassou couldn’t agree more. “With the motorised system, the refugee community now has access to clean, safe and treated water and it is close to their homes,” he says. This will address the burden of fetching water from faraway places and the long queues at the boreholes. He encouraged the communities to keep the water sources clean to avoid contamination exposing them to diseases.

UNICEF has supported the construction of 11 motorized water systems in all the three Districts with South Sudan refugees, to improve the water coverage. The motorization has helped reduce the distance (from 1km to 500m) from house to water point, reduced on the queues at water point and also the time spent the collecting water (water flows from taps so no pumping).

With access to clean and safe water and improved hygiene and sanitation practices, the refugee communities are living a better life.

“Water is life and by giving us clean water, UNICEF has given us a new life,” Elijah ends with a smile.

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