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Water champions peaceful co-existence between refugees and host community

“When we just arrived here in Bidibidi, water was hard to get. Sometimes we were charged a given amount of money per jerrycan from the only borehole which was around here and we had no money,” narrates Mary Kabo, a refugee in Zone 2- Bidibidi settlement.

She recalls that in 2016, the water crisis left them as refugees feel unwelcomed by the host community since most of them did not have money to pay for water.

According to Kabo, payment for water was not the only challenge, they also had to walk for about 6 kilometers from the settlement to that same borehole, which is located in the ‘nearby Barakala village.


In an interview with Engineer Richard Ochaya, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) associate at UNHCR, he confirms that by the time of arrival of refugees in 2016, the documented walkable from one borehole to another was 16Kms.

He also adds that those who opted not to walk that far had no solution but drink water flowing in the seasonal rivers on Nyadri, Oromo among others.

A woman demonstrating how refugees used to collect water for drinking in 2016 after arrival from South Sudan.

“Shortage of water sources was among the first challenges we registered when the refugees first settled here, during the dry season of 2016, some of the few boreholes even started to dry up,” recalls Ochaya.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has over time strengthened the WASH department, which has been mainstreaming with other stakeholders.

Ochaya adds that “as we talk now, the distance between sources of water in Bidibidi is at 250 meters and the longest is about 600 meters; which is within the parameters of national standards of 500 meters to 1,000 meters as a standard distance between water sources.”

Today, Bidibidi refugee settlement has up to a tune of 144 hand pumps, 39 piped water systems of which, 45% operate on solar system and 35% operate in generator.

“This has in turn removed cases of conflicts for water and there is peaceful co-existence between the refugees and host communities, because they all share these water sources,” Ochaya reveals.

He however regrets that there is a challenge in Sanitation. The household toilet coverage in the settlement dropped from 82% in 2018 to 67% in 2019. Ochaya however attributes this the poor sandy soils in the settlements which cannot contain water when it rains.

The area manager Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) office in Yumbe, Ms Grazia Paoleri reveals that the government of Uganda, UNHCR, NRC, DCA and other partners moving from emergency service delivery to the rehabilitation of refugees and the host community.

“Whatever assistance we offer to refugees; the host community is included too. We give refugees 70% and the community takes 30% of it,” discloses Grazia.

She states that NRC, UNHCR and other partners are now in the process of implementing other alternatives to the challenges that refugees and host community are facing.

“We had a challenge of water, we have given 99% alternatives, now the greatest challenge is destruction of environment. We have some of our partners already in the field educating the people about use of pellets and briskets as a clean energy source and does not require use of firewood for cooking.”

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Noah Omuya

Noah Omuya is the founder and CEO of Aica Media and a two time winner of the Media Challenge Awards (The best feature story writer- 2018 and the best Climate Change Photography Award- 2019). He has a bachelors degree in Mass Communication from Kampala International University. He is also an alumni for; British Council Future News Worldwide Fellowship- 2020, Climate Tracker Energy Reporting Fellowship- 2020, InfoNile- Code for Africa Data Journalism Fellowship- 2020, the Media Challenge Fellowship, 2019 and British Council East Africa and Africa Writers Trust Master Class in Creative Writing- 2019. Omuya has specialized training in writing, strategic and multimedia communication, mainstream and online journalism, broadcast media and youth participatory radio, content development, and public relations. He is very much interested in sustainable development communication.

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