UNICEF’s emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene interventions curb diseases

Saving lives of refugees

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye
A man demonstrates hand-washing for a group of young children
UNICEF Uganda/2017/Nakibuuka
11 December 2017

Uganda, Yumbe, 2017 - Jackson Alemi together with his mother and three siblings are among thousands of South Sudan refugees, residing in Bidi Bidi settlement, Northern Uganda. They fled their country for security and shelter after the war intensified in 2016. The refugee settlement, the second largest in the world, is now home to approximately 272,000 refugees, majority of whom are children and women. 

Jackson narrates that it took him and his family three days to travel from Yei in South Sudan to the Uganda border, before settling in their new home, six months ago. “When we first arrived, the hygiene and sanitation situation was appalling. The number of refugees was high and the sanitation facilities were limited. There was a lot of open defecation in the entire settlement. “You wouldn’t walk without covering your nose,” he explains. Handwashing with soap was not a common practice. 
However, with funding from UKaid, Jackson, together with a team of 38 hygiene promoters were trained by OXFAM, UNICEF's implementing partner on how to use the Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation transformation (PHAST) approach, to promote good sanitation and hygiene practices in Zone 1, within the refugee settlement. Jackson confirms that using this approach during the campaign brought faster results. “In a very short period after the sanitation and hygiene campaign was launched, we saw a big difference in our community,” Jackson proudly mentions.

The approach aims at empowering communities to improve hygiene behaviours, preventing diarrheal diseases, and encouraging community-management of water and sanitation facilities. It also triggers the community to tell the difference between good and bad practices.

Just because of poor sanitation, we had a cholera outbreak, but today, you hardly hear of any diarrhoea cases.

Jackson Alemi

The group of volunteers, chosen by the community, carry out door-to-door sensitization drives encouraging people to build latrines, construct hand washing facilities, and construct drying racks for utensils among other practices. They set aside 3 to 4 hours for this exercise and cover approximately 50 to 100 households in a day. In addition, the support from UKaid has enabled the households in the settlement acquire bricks, slabs, wooden doors, treated poles, doors for the latrines and jerrycans for construction of the tippy taps (locally made handwashing facilities).

The team also carries out water quality testing at the household level to ensure the water consumed is not contaminated. Jackson explains that for sustainability of the hygiene and sanitation campaign, the volunteers involve the communities themselves. “For people to change behaviour, you need to involve them because this will create ownership and ensure sustainability of the good practices learned.”

The volunteers also utilize Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials obtained during the training. The team confirms that visual chats have helped them explain the practices better and have contributed a lot to the consumption of the key messages by the communities.    

When asked what drives him to promote good hygiene and sanitation practices in his community, Jackson says,

I love my community and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. Back home, we were dying of guns, so we can’t die of diseases while here. This is why I do what I do.

In addition to the hygiene and sanitation drives, UNICEF is providing clean and safe water through solar power motorized water systems and boreholes. The high yielding water systems supply 150,000 litres per day and serves both the refugees and host communities. 

According to Jacob Opiyo, UNICEF Emergency Specialist, “water and sanitation, along with food and shelter, are the most important human needs that the refugees need to live a decent life. Without access to basic water and sanitation services, and without the practice of good hygiene, the danger of diarrhioea, cholera and other disease outbreaks is high,” he adds. The UKaid support has therefore helped save many lives through the UNICEF water, sanitation and hygiene programmes implemented in all the refugee settlements.