1. We are living through a global refugee crisis of historic proportions.
To date, 68.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.
The Syrian civil war has produced the largest refugee crisis of recent times. Conflicts in South Sudan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.), the Central African Republic, Iraq, and Central America have forcibly displaced millions of people from their homes. Violence has displaced masses of men, women, and children to other regions, countries, or continents. Many have perished on their journey, never making it to safety. Those who make it to camps and settlements are plagued by disease, famine, and lack of access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.
2. There is a difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person (IDP).
Refugees cross borders, according to David Gerlach, Water Mission’s project manager for Tanzania, a country that currently hosts 300,000 refugees. Refugees flee larger conflicts that tend to be more political in nature. For them, the outcome is uncertain; political instability can be a rollercoaster. And because of the instability, they often feel like they can’t go back. Some are third-generation refugees born in camps — their families never able to return home.
On the other hand, IDPs must leave their homes or communities because of a natural disaster or an internal conflict. IDPs are usually waiting temporarily until a disaster blows over or a conflict is resolved.
3. The global refugee crisis impacts host communities.
Host communities — existing communities that are located in close proximity to refugee camps — can be physically and emotionally impacted by the refugee crisis. They often have to absorb a painful increase in their cost of living as the refugee population consumes significant quantities of staple products, driving prices up for items like rice and beans. To ease this burden and to honor the generosity of host communities, Water Mission addresses safe water, sanitation, and hygiene needs of both host communities and refugee camps in countries such as Tanzania.
4. Refugees need jobs, too.
Water Mission has employed the help of more than 100 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda to support recent safe water projects in camps. The organization also employed dozens of refugees from Burundi and the D.R.C. to install systems in Tanzania’s refugee camps over the past four years. Employment builds morale and provides opportunities in otherwise difficult circumstances. Through safe water projects and community empowerment, Water Mission’s work with refugees brings much-needed hope to these camps.
5. Safe water is an immediate need, especially during disease outbreaks.
Access to safe water enables hospitals and health clinics to appropriately treat patients fleeing conflict or a natural disaster. After storms, and particularly when floods recede, most groundwater sources become contaminated with cholera. This is what the humanitarian world calls the “second disaster,” or an outbreak of waterborne illnesses after cyclones and tsunamis. Following Cyclone Idai, health workers at camps reported an average of 200 new cholera cases each day, many of which affect children under the age of five. The lack of safe water also stalls or hinders the work of medical professionals in rural areas and on the disaster front, as we’ve seen recently in our refugee and disaster response.
6. Waterborne and water-related illnesses greatly affect those in camps and settlements.
Often living in densely populated areas without safe water or proper sanitation facilities, refugee and IDP communities are vulnerable to waterborne and water-related diseases. In situations that involve a natural disaster, flooding can aggravate already difficult living conditions for people seeking asylum by contaminating groundwater sources.
Also, IDPs and refugees who travel from one location to another jeopardize their immunity to malaria, since immunity to the parasite (transmitted via mosquito bites) is built by and within ecosystems. Migrations force IDPs and refugees into environments to which their bodies have not acclimatized, thus exposing them to strains of malaria that they haven’t built natural defenses against.
7. Water trucking is a common yet unreliable source of water for refugees.
The UNHCR, which is the United Nations’ refugee agency, is responsible for assisting refugees seeking asylum. They work in conjunction with host countries, quickly transforming open fields into refugee settlements in times of crisis. Transporting water becomes a critical concern that is often addressed via water trucking, which can cost approximately $15,000 per day while still only providing limited access to water of varied quality. In early 2018, the UNHCR recruited Water Mission to partner with them, increasing refugees’ access to safe water in Uganda and greatly reducing the amount spent on trucked water.
8. Solar-powered water systems are vital during a crisis.
Solar-powered water systems have proven especially effective in camps and settlements — places that may not have access to electrical grid power. With high flow and pressure capacity, solar-powered solutions can serve a large number of people. Compared with alternative pumping methods, solar pumps grant equal or greater levels of quantity and reliability. Solar-powered systems require very little capital maintenance while continuing to function for 10+ years. Solar is a dependable, clean, renewable source of energy, which is a key advantage in refugee situations when other power options are not available. Water Mission has installed approximately 1,400 solar-powered water systems to date.
9. Refugees and IDPs need to rebuild in holistic ways.
In 2018, thousands of refugees fled to Uganda from South Sudan, escaping a violent civil war. Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution experience trauma that no person should have to endure, often leaving them traumatized, depressed, and angry. As part of our work in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in northern Uganda, Water Mission partnered with the local church and the American Bible Society to host a four-day trauma healing program based on forgiveness and reconciliation. The program taught Christian leaders how to support the emotional and spiritual healing necessary for people in times of crisis.
On this World Refugee Day, we hope you join us as we pray for refugees and IDPs around the world. To advocate on their behalf, we encourage you to share this post.