To be a refugee is to endure unimaginable trauma. Even the most basic of resources are never guaranteed, and life is marked by uncertainty.
As the global refugee population increased from 70 million to 80 million in 2020, the devastating COVID-19 pandemic also stopped essential, lifesaving services for refugees seeking safety from war, violence, and persecution.
Since 2015, Water Mission has been on the front lines, providing safe water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions to men, women, and children in refugee settlements and at the Ugandan border. The generosity of our supporters and dedication of our partners allowed Water Mission to serve more than 460,000 refugees in Ugandan settlements in 2020—an increase of more than 40% from 2019.
Working collaboratively with trusted partners including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UNICEF, the Ugandan Ministry of Health, and others, we have continued to expand our programs. We have also developed new technologies to serve as many refugees as possible, as quickly as possible.
Of the settlements in northern Uganda, Rhino Camp is usually the destination for new refugees, most of whom are South Sudanese. Before 2020, there was no reliable, accessible safe water in Rhino Camp. The spread of COVID-19 in this overcrowded, under-resourced settlement exposed and heightened the dire need for safe water.
Cecilia, a 62-year-old resident of Rhino Camp, described to our team some of the most difficult aspects of her experience. “For a long time, we suffered from a lack of safe water,” she said. “The only available water was a very long distance from us. At my age, that distance was a very big problem, considering I have no one to help me. Congestion at the only water access point meant long hours…and losing time that could have been used to do other household chores.”
“While we were still dealing with the distance to the only water point,” Cecilia continued, “the COVID-19 pandemic started, causing panic…mainly because disease prevention required safe water for constant handwashing.”
In 2020, the partnership of supporters like you enabled Water Mission’s Uganda team to:
- Find sustainable water sources in two new locations in Arua District, where Rhino Camp is located.
- Lay over six miles of pipelines to distribute safe water throughout the settlement.
- Build 10 new tap stands, complete with multiple faucets for safe, efficient water collection.
- Upgrade 40 existing tap stands, bringing safe water close to home for thousands of refugees.
- Restore an artesian well that yields approximately 13,000 gallons (49,210 liters) of water per hour—meeting the needs of more than 10,000 refugees in one section of Rhino alone.
- Improve several water systems’ chlorine treatment processes, mitigating the possibility of contamination or recontamination of water.
The spread of COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges, requiring our Uganda team to rapidly adapt implementation strategies to include new health and safety guidelines. Our highly skilled and innovative staff quickly implemented social distancing practices at water points, devised health and hygiene education campaigns for more than 50,000 refugees, and installed 8,000 basic handwashing stations (called “tippy taps”).
Your support also enabled us to provide relief to 3,500 Congolese refugees stranded at the Ugandan border amid COVID-19. A temporary safe water source, latrines, and handwashing stations were provided to the refugees as they followed quarantine orders at the border prior to entry into Uganda.
“I am glad that Water Mission extended water service to our area…amid [the COVID-19 pandemic]. Now, I can say that my life and that of the entire community has been easier with regard to access to safe water. It only takes me about five minutes to walk to the water access point…fetching water has never been easier.”
– Cecilia, resident of Rhino Camp
Every day, individuals like Cecilia living in Rhino Camp and in settlements around the world are doing the exhausting, arduous work of rebuilding their lives, homes, and families in an unfamiliar new country. All of this must be done with limited resources and under the weight of serious trauma. Finding the strength, hope, and healing to survive these circumstances demonstrates a resilience beyond what most of us can imagine.
Our team is committed to meeting the physical need for safe water, sanitation, and hygiene in the most difficult of environments, and to sharing hope through safe and Living Water. We will continue to innovate, learn, and grow our work to serve even more refugees—and your support makes this possible. Thank you for partnering with us as we walk alongside individuals facing what may be the most challenging days of their lives.