When tens of thousands of people fled violence and unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2013, Water Mission began implementing its first safe water projects serving refugee populations in neighboring Uganda. In partnership with UNICEF, we provided safe drinking water through solar-powered water treatment systems and piped distribution networks in Uganda’s refugee settlements.
Two years later, civil war in South Sudan drove an influx of refugees to Uganda. Water Mission and UNICEF responded immediately to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees.
It is the responsibility of the United Nations, in conjunction with host countries, to assist refugees as they seek safety, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the United Nations agency primarily responsible for coordinating these efforts. When refugee crises occur, UNHCR must transform open fields into refugee settlements by constructing roads, providing drinking water access and sanitation facilities, and offering refugees the materials to build houses — and there is never time to prepare in advance.
UNHCR used to provide water to refugees by transporting water in large trucks at a cost of approximately $15,000 every day at the peak of the emergency in 2016. The method was prohibitively expensive, inefficient, and logistically difficult to maintain. Even worse, refugees had limited access to the water, and the quality of the water varied.
Then, in early 2018, as UNHCR continued to expand infrastructure to meet the needs of the steadily growing population of South Sudanese refugees, the agency recruited Water Mission to partner with them to increase refugees’ access to safe water, which would also greatly reduce spending on trucked water costing approximately $500 per truck per day.
Water Mission’s role would be to create large-scale, solar-powered water treatment systems and distribution networks in two refugee settlements and a nearby border town where refugees often enter the country. These solar-powered arrays use special solar pumping inverters manufactured by our strategic partner Grundfos, which allow for the use of a hybrid power system that decreases operating costs.
In addition to providing safe water access, Water Mission was responsible for constructing latrines and the enhancing hygiene promotion campaigns, efforts which helped prevent the rapid spread of diseases that constantly threaten the densely populated settlements. We also identified individuals with physical disabilities in order to construct accessible latrines beside their homes.
By the end of 2018, Water Mission successfully completed both the water projects and the latrines. Through 12 miles of installed piping, our three massive water treatment systems provide 50,000 people with safe water each day. Additionally, 2,110 latrines were constructed, providing 11,600 people with access to sanitation facilities.
Due to the success of our initial work with UNHCR, we’re excited to announce that Water Mission has been asked to continue the partnership in 2019 as a water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) leader in the Bidi Bidi and Rhino Camp settlements. In this role, Water Mission will ensure the long-term operation of the water treatment systems, address hygiene concerns through WASH education programs, ensure that the latrines are meeting sanitation needs, and make ongoing improvements as needed.
Water Mission is honored to continue serving refugees and neighboring communities in Uganda alongside UNHCR in 2019.