• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Life-sustaining water project in Ethiopia will live on after refugees leave

News Stories, 6 February 2006

© UNHCR/K.G.Egziabher
A water project originally planned by UNHCR to help Somali refugees will have lasting benefits for their Ethiopian hosts.

KEBRIBEYAH CAMP, Ethiopia, 6 Feb (UNHCR) Over the years, Somali refugees in this area of Ethiopia have gradually returned to their homeland, but a life-sustaining water system originally installed by the UN refugee agency will remain behind to ease the lives of both the last refugees and the local communities.

"Our life as refugees has obviously been beset with a multitude of challenges but none was so difficult as the problem of securing full access to safe drinking water," said 37-year-old Leila Oumer, a Somali mother of nine who has been in Kebribeyah camp since 1996.

"I believe the days of our water-related woes are over and all we must do to sustain this is guard the system and the water points against abuse and misuse of any sort," said the member of the Refugee Committee, which is in charge of overseeing the functioning of the water points.

The impetus for the project was originally the vast numbers of Somalis who had fled war in their own country. In the early 1990s some 628,000 Somali refugees were in eight camps in eastern Ethiopia, including Kebribeyah and the nearby camp of Hartisheik, which hosted a staggering 250,000 people.

Supplying water by tanker was difficult and expensive for UNHCR, so the refugee agency decided to install a pipeline to the well-watered Jarar Valley, 21 kilometres from Kebribeyah.

"Initially the project was meant to benefit a total of 173,367 people composed of Somali refugees in Kebribeyah and Hartisheik camps, the local communities in both towns, the communities of the valley and people living along the route of the pipeline, not to mention the big number of cattle and camels that are fed in the valley," says Fernando Protti Alvarado, UNHCR's deputy representative.

The complex work of boring holes in the valley, connecting the wells and building the pipeline cost some US$4 million and was not completed until just over two years ago.

By then, the UNHCR repatriation operations that began in 1997 had led to the closure of all the camps except Kebribeyah. But more than 15,000 Somali refugees remain, unable to join their countrymen in returning because of the continuing political chaos of Somalia.

"Before UNHCR installed these water points in the camp, we used to get much less water per day and what we used to get from the camp reservoir was of poor quality," said Mohammed Alijama, a Somali refugee who is still unable to return home because his area is still dangerous.

"Full-time guards have been assigned and the Refugee Committee, of which I am a member, does a regular oversight of the way things are handled by other refugees," he said.

Protection of the pipeline matters to more than just the Somali refugees. The 24 water points seven in the camp and 17 in the town benefit 38,909 people, most of them Ethiopians who have generously hosted the refugees during the past two decades. In addition, five water points and cattle troughs have been installed along the pipeline route.

"Before UNHCR gave us these precious water points, which pour clean and safe water, we in Kebribeyah had faced a very serious shortage of water," said Fatima Beshir, a local resident of Kebribeyah. "Whatever little we used to get from dirty ponds had very dire health consequences. We used to travel scores of kilometres to Jarar Valley and Fafen, which is even further away, to fetch water."

There are concerns for the long-term future of the water system. UNHCR says the pumps and other equipment are already ageing, causing occasional interruptions of service while spare parts are found. Pumping capacity is just 50 percent of the theoretical capacity of the wells.

"To overcome these and other problems UNHCR will continue to support the region and the Kebribeyah werda [local administration] in building their managerial capacity to take over and manage the scheme," said Protti. "There is also a need for further discussions and negotiations and hard work to get a proper and sustainable management system in place.

"Failure in this endeavour will have a serious impact on the overall refugee assistance at Kebribeyah camp, and the local communities who benefit from the scheme," said the UNHCR official.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Kebribeyah Camp, Ethiopia




UNHCR country pages

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Provision of clean water and sanitation services to refugees is of special importance.

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

New Arrivals in Yemen

During one six-day period at the end of March, more than 1,100 Somalis and Ethiopians arrived on the shores of Yemen after crossing the Gulf of Aden on smuggler's boats from Bosaso, Somalia. At least 28 people died during these recent voyages – from asphyxiation, beating or drowning – and many were badly injured by the smugglers. Others suffered skin problems as a result of prolonged contact with sea water, human waste, diesel oil and other chemicals.

During a recent visit to Yemen, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller pledged to further raise the profile of the situation, to appeal for additional funding and international action to help Yemen, and to develop projects that will improve the living conditions and self sufficiency of the refugees in Yemen.

Since January 2006, Yemen has received nearly 30,000 people from Somalia, Ethiopia and other places, while more than 500 people have died during the sea crossing and at least 300 remain missing. UNHCR provides assistance, care and housing to more than 100,000 refugees already in Yemen.

New Arrivals in Yemen

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

The number of people arriving on the coast of Yemen after being smuggled across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa has more than doubled this year. So far this year, more than 18,000 people have arrived in Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, and nearly 400 have died attempting the journey.

This surge in arrivals is largely due to the continuing conflict in Somalia and the use of new smuggling routes from Somalia to Yemen and across the Red Sea from Djibouti. Many of the new arrivals also tell of crop losses due to drought, which forced them to leave home. This photo set focuses on those people leaving from Djibouti.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters. We have stepped up our work in Yemen under a US$17 million operation that includes extra staff, provision of additional shelter and assistance, and protection for refugees and internally displaced people.

Posted on 20 May 2008

The Gulf of Aden: Sharp Rise in Crossings and Deaths

Ethiopia: Far From Home Play video

Ethiopia: Far From Home

Nyabuka Lam arrived in Pagak, Ethiopia in September after escaping armed men who shot her three children and husband back in her home country, South Sudan. After walking for 15 days to reach the safety of Pagak, she is now finally on a path to recovery.
Iraq: The Generous GiverPlay video

Iraq: The Generous Giver

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, with nearly half seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. As weary families began pouring into Dohuk, one local businessman built them a small camp equipped with tents, water, sanitation and electricity.
Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship Play video

Italy: Haunted by a Sinking Ship

"Every time I try to sleep I see what I saw in the water, what happened to me, the dead children" Thamer & Thayer, brothers from Syria, escaped war, then unrest in Libya only to be faced with death on the Mediterranean The Lampedusa boat tragedies sparked a debate on asylum policies in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch a search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sea. Called Mare Nostrum, the operation has rescued more than 63,000 people.