Water ATMs: A Safe and Dignified Water Solution in Refugee Settlements

As displacement crises become increasingly protracted, there is an urgent need for sustainable and innovative ways to secure access to water in refugee settlements. Through a partnership with Grundfos, DRC has implemented water systems in three Ugandan villages, which offer a safe and dependable water supply while relieving the residents from reliance on humanitarian actors for their water.

One paramount challenge in most refugee camps and settlements across the world is the availability of water to the residents. Often, displaced people rely on unsustainable access to water, such as water trucking or drawing their water from unprotected natural sources, with water often being dirty or contaminated and unsafe for consumption.

This was also the case in the Kyaka II settlement in Uganda, which was established in 2005 and hosts more than 60,000 refugees.

When William Byirinjo arrived here in 2010 after he fled the Democratic Republic of Congo due to an insurgency, there was no reliable access to clean water.

“There was a hole from which we drew water. We had to take it even if it was dirty for lack of a choice. Sickness was the order of the day” he says.

Over time, the Danish Refugee Council built a borehole where residents could retrieve water. It was a better option, but pumping water required a lot of energy, it was very time-consuming, and the pumping station was not a stable solution.

“It often broke down, and since maintenance depended on the money, we collected per household which some people never paid, we failed to sort the challenge of water,” William Byirinjo says.

A sense of ownership and a longer-term solution

Therefore, DRC has partnered with Grundfos, a global leader in advanced pump solutions and water technology, to conceive a project that reaches about 15,000 residents in three villages within Kyaka II, namely Bukere A, Bukere B and Buliti. The aim is to provide safe water for the communities in a sustainable, equitable and efficient manner that is also more environmentally as well as financially sustainable.

With financial support from the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Fund, DRC and Grundfos have implemented five solar-powered AQtap water ATMs, which are automated water kiosks with a payment system through a water credit card that can be loaded through mobile payments. This system is not only safer because of its cashless nature, but also more equitable, as it won´t allow people to default on payments. 

Now, the AQtap water ATMs provide the local communities in the three villages with reliable and safe water around the clock, while also tackling the issue of water wastage through spillage. Moreover, they are connected to a water management system that keeps track of water usage and the transactions made and that monitors and reports technical issues.

Aqtap Bidibidi Uganda Mar 18 (1) 1 Crop

15,000 people in three villages in Uganda now have access to reliable and safe water in a more environmentally and financially sustainable way thanks to a partnership between Grundfos and DRC.

Both financial gains and the maintenance of the AQTaps are managed by the Water User Committee, which consists of members of the local community. This not only fosters a sense of ownership among the local community but will also ensure that the project can sustain itself in the long run.

An essential help in the fight against COVID-19

Since the five AQTaps have been installed, the communities in the three villages have benefitted greatly, especially considering the increased water demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The lives of people in the community have been uplifted with the provision of clean water. Amidst this pandemic, there is ample water for handwashing as mandated to avoid the spread of COVID-19,” says William Byirinjo.

There are also reports that the new water systems have helped to reduce tensions in the local community. Previously, long queuing times at the borehole would lead to fights among the agitated residents. But since the instalment of the AQTaps has led to easier and safer access to water, this is no longer an issue according to one resident and treasurer of her local Water User Committee.