1 million liters of water per day to South Sudanese refugees

For months, South Sudanese refugees have waded through the flood waters at Leitchuor camp in Gambella, Ethiopia. Built on a floodplain, the camp has been submerged since the beginning of the rainy season. Despite being surrounded by the resource, there is still a desperate need for potable water. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is trying to fulfill this need by delivering 1 million liters of water to Leitchour and Tierkidi refugee camps every day, providing essential clean water to almost 100,000 South Sudanese refugees.

Since fighting broke out in South Sudan in December, 2013, more than 190,000 South Sudanese refugees have crossed the border to be received in refugee camps in Gambella, the far-Western region of Ethiopia. The crisis has torn families apart and many refugees are arriving without loved ones and belongings, and without hope of seeing them again. An important part of camp life and infrastructure is access to clean water. Clean water is a critical priority for drinking, washing and cooking, and the Danish Refugee Council is playing a pivotal role in delivering this basic need.

“We've delivered tons and tons of water since the beginning of the influx to Gambella – 190 million liters alone in 2014. The water comes from boreholes and then we either truck the water to established water points in the camp, or we have a direct pipeline pumping water from the bore holes to the water points. With this effort we are delivering 1 million liters of clean, fresh water every day to almost 100,000 people in Tierkidi and Leitchuor refugee camps,” says Stanley Njau, DRC WASH Manager, who has been coordinating DRC’s response to the call for potable water.

The rainy season called for the urgent restructuring of Leitchuor camp to ensure the safety and living conditions of the refugees. Almost 30,000 refugees were forced to move from the tent or hut that they had been calling home. This meant that the refugees had to move away from some of the already established water points. The heavy flooding also made it impossible to transport water via trucks. Luckily, the foresight of DRC with funding from UNHCR and OCHA to build the underground pipeworks to deliver safe water to the refugee and host communities helped to avoid disaster.

“When we saw how the camp in Leitchuor was established before the rainy season, we immediately thought that this could be a potential problem. So we decided to go with the pipeline system which has enabled water delivery to inaccessible and flooded parts of the camp. Additionally, we have managed to establish new water points with pumps and piping in the nearby village, where many of the refugees fled to. Without this effort they wouldn't have access to clean water, so I can surely say that this operation saved lives,” says Stanley Njau.

Nyabo Gach is one of the refugees that had to move because of flooding. She arrived in Leitchuor in February, 2013, with her 6 children and her sister's 3 children. Both her husband and her sister were killed in the fighting in South Sudan. They had to walk 17 days on foot to come to Leitchuor, foregoing food and drink for days on end and depending on the kindness of roaming pastoralists.

“When the rainy season began, we had to move. It is very important for us that there are water tanks here in the village. Water is life – so it is essential for us to have access to the water. Therefore we are very happy that we also have a water point here,” says Nyabo Gach.

The rainy season is over for now but since it is a recurring issue every year, focus is still very much needed.

The Danish Refugee Council has been operating in Ethiopia since 2009, supporting various refugee populations, host communities and displaced persons. DRC is one of the leading actors on the ground in the current emergency response in the Gambella region. Since December 2013, when fighting broke out in South Sudan, the neighbouring region of Gambella has experienced a large influx of South Sudanese refugees. DRC has provided assistance to more than 100,000 refugees since the beginning of 2014, including safe water solutions, sanitation and hygiene promotion.