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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid

Reaching out to refugees in Northern Uganda

In Northern Uganda, Cordaid has built a water supply system that produces up to 100.000 liters a day and serves thousands of people. It’s just one of many things we have done recently to respond to the needs of refugees coming from South Sudan and the host communities that welcome them.

Over a million of South Sudanese have fled spiralling violence and sought refuge in neighbouring Uganda. According to the UN more than 85% of the refugees are women and children below 18 years of age.

No overcrowded campsites for refugees

Unlike many other major refugee settlement areas in the world, you will find no overcrowded refugee camps in Northern Uganda. The host country is doing whatever it can to integrate refugees in its local societal and economic systems. As such it is one of the very few countries in the world that sticks to the New York Declaration, which was signed by all UN member states.

Imvepi and Omugo settlements are both located in Arua district.

Marten Treffers, Cordaid Humanitarian advisor, visited refugee settlements in Uganda last year. “As soon as they pass the border – sometimes thousands a day – refugees are registered at reception centers and then brought to settlement areas, such as Imvepi and Omugo (an extension of Rhino settlement), in the north-western part of the country. Here they are allocated a plot of land, where they can grow crops and build shelters.”

“Before we did this, water supply was below the UN emergency standards. Now, in Zone III, it exceeds those standards.”

Ronnie Bashabe, Cordaid WASH manager in Uganda

This policy gives refugees more freedom, more mobility and more perspective of self-sufficiency than living in cramped and fenced-off tent cities, isolated from local communities. In fact, refugees live side by side with host communities, have access to the same healthcare centers and schools and allowed to seek employment. In turn, over one million refugees offer their skills and help to develop a sparsely populated and traditionally disadvantaged area of Uganda.

Yet, though settlement conditions are promising, conditions remain extremely hard. Mothers, children and men who lost everything, have to start from scratch again, with next to nothing. And to cope with lack of water and other basic necessities.

Cordaid is reaching out to 10.000 families

Against this background, in the settlement areas of Imvepi and Omugo, Cordaid’s humanitarian team reached out to 10.000 families in the past 9 months. Our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) manager in Uganda, Ronnie Bashabe, sums up Cordaid’s main humanitarian interventions, supported by Dutch private donor’s funding (SHO).

“At least we can now expect pupils to stay in school and concentrate on their studies.”

Ronnie Bashabe, Cordaid WASH manager in Uganda

Water supply

Cordaid has constructed a water supply system that provides water to 4600 refugees in Zone 3 of Imvepi settlement. “We constructed a solarized water well produces 10.000 liters per hour”, Ronnie explains. “On a sunny day, it pumps up 80.000 liters. We also equipped it with a 22 KvA generator to support the system during bad weather or after the sun sets, so we can reach 100.000 liters.”

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Cordaid team inspecting a 60 solar module that supplies power to the newly built water supply system (© Cordaid)

refugees northern uganda

Water tank in Imvepi settlement (© Cordaid)

The 50.000 liters reservoir tank we built, assures an uninterrupted supply. We have created a network of 4.3 km, which provides water to 10 tapping stations with 3 outlets each. “On average, this system is providing almost 22 liters per person per day, to 4600 beneficiaries in total”, Ronnie continues. “Before we did this, water was distributed by trucks and supply was below the UN emergency standards. Now, in Zone III, it exceeds those standards.”

Now that it is built, Cordaid will hand over the system and its maintenance to the government District Water Office, that works in partnership with UNHCR.

Sanitation in schools

A Cordaid needs assessment exposed the bad sanitation situation in the health centers and schools of Imvepi. Absent or insufficient latrines and sanitation facilities severely hamper school attendance, especially among girls. This is why we constructed 20 stances of drainable latrines (latrines that can be emptied) in two schools in Imvepi. “In the only Secondary school in the area with more than 800 pupils, did not have a single latrine. The other school had one latrine for 287 pupils. Because of this, students could only stay for half a school day, at the most”, Ronnie explains. “Now, thanks to Cordaid’s intervention, stance ratios are  80:1 and 128:1 respectively. At least we can now expect pupils to stay in school and concentrate on their studies.”

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Girls’ latrine at Inyau School, with constant water supply, meant for menstrual hygiene (© Cordaid)

Soon Cordaid will also complete a 10 stances drainable public latrine at Imvepi market. “500 vendors were thrilled by this news. They can’t wait for the new facilities”, says Ronnie.

Household latrines, effective in reducing open defecation

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Household latrine with a bath shelter and hand washing facility, in Zone III of Imvepi settlement (© Cordaid)

Our surveys showed that most refugees lacked the capacity and materials to construct their own private household latrines. Ideally, this is still the kind of toilet people prefer to use.

This also explains why open air defecation is such a problem in settlement areas. “We needed to help prevent outbreaks of poor hygiene and sanitation related diseases”, says Ronnie. “This is why we provided 2000 households in Imvepi and Omugo with the materials and skills training to construct their own latrines”, he continues.

Logically, private latrines are much more effective in combating open defecation than communal latrines. “That’s why, in both settlements, open defecation has significantly decreased after we did this”,  Ronnie concludes.

Protection in health centers

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One of two patients’ waiting facilities built by Cordaid (health center in Imvepi settlement) (© Cordaid)

Refugees not only need to walk long distances to health centers, they also spend a lot of time queueing for consultations and treatment, often in the blazing sun. This is only aggravating patients’ conditions. “To improve this situation, we designed and constructed two covered waiting rooms on two different health centers in Imvepi”, Ronnie reports.

Hygiene promotion: washing hands saves lives

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Cordaid WASH team and refugees celebrating Global Hand Washing Day in Imvepi (© Cordaid)

Building latrines is one thing, changing hygiene practices is another- and more difficult thing. “In Imvepi, our trained hygiene promoters organize community dialogues, drama and theatre and even football matches, to bring across the importance of good hygiene practices”, Ronnie comments.

This strategy worked well. “All household latrines we helped to construct have got a handwashing facility”, Ronnie explains. “And washing hands after using the latrines is common practice now. It may sound trivial, but in fact it’s essential. Washing hands saves lives”, he concludes.

Collaboration, the only way to be effective

Everything we do for refugees – and the host communities, who also benefit from the facilities we help construct – hinges on teamwork and collaboration. Our strategic partners in Northern Uganda are the UNHCR, the office of the Prime Minister, the ministry of Water and Environment and Oxfam and other implementing partners.

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Cordaid’s humanitarian team in Uganda (with Ronnie Bashabe in the top row, second from the right).

Cordaid’s Water and Sanitation interventions are part of a globally coordinated relief operation. Together, the Ugandan and international humanitarian community is responding to one of the refugee crises in the world. Here’s a UNHCR overview of who’s doing what where in the Northern Uganda Refugee response.