By Demissew Bizuwerk
TERGOL, AKOBO WOREDA (GAMBELLA REGION), 15 March, 2014- As the searing heat of the afternoon sun begins to ease, a group of women carrying jerry cans and plastic buckets start to descend into a small compound where they have access to clean water from two water points. The small compound is one of two sites where UNICEF has installed two emergency water treatment facilities (EMWAT kits) through its implementing partner, ZOA International, in Tergol town, in the Akobo district of the Gambella region, western Ethiopia.
Tergol is a small town by the Akobo River that marks the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan. Tergol has been under the spotlight since mid-December last year after thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers crossed over into the town after being displaced by conflict in Africa’s youngest nation.
According to UNHCR, close to 66,000 asylum seekers crossed into Ethiopia by the beginning of March 2014. Akobo has received 34 per cent of this number, which is the second largest arrival rate after Pagak where 33,000 South Sudanese civilians displaced by conflict have entered. These asylum seekers are in a critical situation and need immediate humanitarian assistance including the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation services.
In Tergol, the host community has entirely depended on the Akobo River for its water needs as there has never been a facility to provide safe drinking water. However, this situation has been recently improved. With UNICEF’s support, EMWAT kits have been built and are now supplying clean drinking water to the Tergol community as well as to the thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers. Water from the nearby river is purified and supplied by the first reservoir built by the emergency kit, the purified water is then transferred into a second reservoir where it is chemically treated before it is reticulated to the water access points. Each EMWAT kit has a capacity for providing 20,000 litres of clean water and the kits can be re-filled every two hours depending on the rate of demand.
Safe water for mothers and children
While the women gather around the water points, they talk to each other as clean water fills their buckets and jerry cans. The women then help one another to balance the vessels on top of their heads.
When it is Nyathak Minyjang’s turn, a 25-year-old mother of four, she places her plastic bucket under the tap and holds the hose down to pour in the clean water. Prior to the response, Nyathak had lived on the South Sudan side of Akobo before coming to Tergol with her four children. Her only previous access to water was a river. She never imagined that she would have access to clean drinking water from a tap. “We used to drink water from a river. My children would regularly get sick and I would get sick too”, she says. “The quality of the water here is very nice.” Nyathak comes to the water point at least three times a day. She fetches water for cooking, bathing and drinking. Most importantly, she applies the lessons she learnt about personal hygiene from community hygiene promoters. She is also keen to keep her children clean.
Nyarout Gazwech, a 21-year-old mother of two boys, is also very happy about the supply of clean water. She came from the South Sudan city of Malakal a month and a half ago, leaving her two brothers and her mother behind when the conflict intensified. During her long trek to Tergol, she and her children had no option but to drink unsafe water. “My children were having diarrhoea after drinking the river water. Here we have clean water and my boys will not get diarrhoea again,” she says.
Comprehensive WASH approach
UNICEF in partnership with UNHCR, the Government Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), the Gambella Region Water Bureau, and its implementing partner ZOA supports the provision of safe water to the host community and asylum seekers in Tergol. UNICEF’s response has followed its Water Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) strategy by increasing equitable and sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation services, as well as promoting improved hygiene in Tergol.
“We are providing clean water to the asylum seekers and to the host community. Furthermore, we teach them about safe hygiene practices such as the importance of hand washing and using latrines,” says Nigussie Yisma of ZOA who is coordinating the WASH interventions in Tergol.
Apart from Tergol, UNICEF also supports WASH interventions at the entry point in Pagag and in the Lietchor refugee camp. One EMWAT kit has been installed at the Pagag entry point and is providing clean drinking water to the asylum seekers and the host community. Similarly, five shallow water wells have been drilled in the Lietchor refugee camp to increase access to a sustainable source of clean water for the refugees. Moreover, water purification chemicals and emergency sanitation facilities are being distributed while hygiene promoters continue teaching the community and asylum seekers about safe personal and environmental hygiene practices.
Local capacity building
When the emergency response was launched in January 2014, community hygiene promoters were trained and they taught the community and asylum seekers about the benefits of safe hygiene practices. Furthermore, 40 communal latrines have been built in close proximity to the host community as well as where asylum seekers are staying.
“We have been taught about personal hygiene and the importance of hand washing before cooking and after using the toilet,” says Nyathak “They [hygiene promoters] also told us this can prevent our children from getting diarrhoea.”
In order to keep the facilities running smoothly, local water technicians have been trained on the management and maintenance of the water facilities to safeguard smooth operation. The water technicians are responsible for regularly monitoring the water levels and the quality of the drinking water.
Water purification chemicals and accessories are also readily available to the community.
Clean and safe drinking water is essential for life and is also bringing renewed hope for people like Nyathak and Nyarout after being displaced by the conflict in South Sudan.