New Year, potable water- How we spent our Ethiopian New year holiday

By Simon Odong

Kule Refugee Camp, Gambella, September 11, 2014- While the Americans were commemorating the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attack  on the world trade centre, the Ethiopians celebrated their 2007 new year day, we were with the South Sudanese Refugees in Kule settlement camp turning swamp water into safe drinking (potable) water.

Kule Refugee camp, opened in May 2015 and it  is home to over 50,000 refugees who fled from South Sudan due to conflict. The recent rains in Gambella coupled with run-off from the high lands channelled through Baro River, have already caused widespread flooding in Lietchuor Refugee Camp and Itang Town. The same rains have rendered most roads in Kule and Tierkidi Refugee camps making them inaccessible by large trucks. This means, nearly half of the population in Kule cannot be served with potable water through water trucking.As a result, women and children had to walk between two to four Kilometres to the nearest water point within the camp, while others resorted to drinking surface water.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong A Refugee Woman Draws water from the Swamp on September 11 before completion of emergency water treatment installation

In Response to this, The UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR), have ordered an immediate repair of all roads starting with the overburdened spots. While the roads are being fixed by Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam with support from UNICEF, today installed an emergency water treatment kit (EmWat) to minimise the health risks of using surface water and to reduce the burden of women, boys and girls hauling water over long distances.

The EmWat kit is donated by UNICEF, installed by Oxfam with technical support from UNICEF and UNHCR. As a stop-gap measure it will provide safe drinking water to some 12,000 refugees residing in the hard to reach portion of the. Until a time when the in-camp roads are accessible by water trucks. The kit works on the principles of aided sedimentation, filtration and disinfection before distribution through a tap stand connected to a raised storage tank.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong EmWat kit sedimentation tank

The long term solution to this problem however, is the construction of a piped water scheme. With an estimated US$2.5Millions, UNICEF is supporting this sustainable solution through designing the system; construction of water reservoir tanks and technical support to partners implementing the other portion of the system. Once completed, between April and May 2015, it will serve some 120,000 persons including the surrounding host communities of the two camps (Kule and Tierkidi).

In the WASH sector, UNICEF is supporting the Gambella operation in emergency areas such as this by pre-positioning essential supplies and equipment; support to sector coordination; mitigating the effects of the displacement on the host communities; looking beyond the emergency and providing ad-hoc technical support to partners.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong Refugees accessing clean potable water from the EmWat Kit

One refugee woman had this to say after fetching water from the installed kit, “Yesterday was my first day to drink water from this swamp after I felt tired of walking to Zone C, why didn’t you people bring this thing (meaning Emwat Kit) yesterday?”  This was how we spent our Ethiopian New Year, thanks to Oxfam who is now running the kit.

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