World Water Day: Water brings life to refugee village in Uganda, and income to one family

News Stories, 22 March 2013

© UNHCR/L.Beck
Congolese refugee Iraguha Nkuriza Ferecian, aged 26, is running the newly purified lake water into tanks for distribution to refugees in Nakivale refugee settlement, Uganda. He has been working as a water system operator for UNHCR for two years.

NAKIVALE, Uganda, March 22 (UNHCR) Iraguha Nkuriza Ferecian casts carefully measures chemicals into three large metal vats of scummy water from Lake Nakivale, then climbs down a rickety ladder, secure in the knowledge that in just three hours he'll be well on his way to supplying clean water to thousands of fellow Congolese refugees in this settlement in Uganda.

The 27-year-old has been a refugee since fleeing attacks on his family and neighbours in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was just nine. After getting a UNHCR scholarship to study at secondary school, and undergoing specialist training to become a water systems operator, he's now giving back.

"I can now teach my fellows to boil water before drinking and clean their containers before using them," he says, explaining the importance of access to clean, safe water. For Iraguha, World Water Day doesn't just come on March 22 it's every day.

Unlike many countries where refugees are confined to camps, Uganda permits them to live in settlements indistinguishable from local villages, and to farm for themselves. The Nakivale refugee settlement is enormous, covering the same geographical area as the Indian city of Kolkata.

UNHCR provides clean water to the 68,000 refugees and asylum-seekers and also to some 16,000 Ugandans who live alongside the refugees in the settlements. This helps diffuse possible tensions and promote the peaceful co-existence between refugees and the local host communities as well as helping out Ugandans, many of whom are also desperately poor and lacking facilities.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is now a distant memory for Iraguha, whose younger brothers were born as refugees in Uganda. Two of his sisters were separated from the family during their flight 16 years ago and have never been heard from since. He can't imagine going back to the turbulent eastern DRC after spending the majority of his life here in Nakivale.

"I don't have hope of going back my neighbours and relatives are still being killed," he claims. "Whether we die here or get a chance of going anywhere else is God's mercy."

His work at the UNHCR water plant allows him to support his elderly, disabled parents and four younger siblings. Iraguha gets paid around US$40 a month to run the water purifying plant treating the water with chemicals to help make sure it is safe to drink, supervising the other seven workers at the plant and reporting any mechanical problems back to UNHCR staff.

From those three metal vats where the water and chemicals settle for three hours, purified water flows into cement holding tanks and along pipes to communal taps throughout the vast settlement. It can then be used for drinking, cooking, cleaning and watering crops. The water taps are managed by the refugees themselves, who are responsible for their maintenance through water committees.

"I am happy to be helping my brothers and friends to get water," says Patrick Ekanga, a Congolese refugee, father of triplets and a technician at a water tap in Nakivale's New Congo village. "Without water no one can survive."

Once a taxi driver in DRC, for the last nine months he's replaced water taps and done minor repairs for his water committee.

Iraguha and Patrick don't need to be told that World Water Day celebrates the importance of water cooperation and the good management of water. Says Iraguha: "Water is life when there is water we have life."

By Lucy Beck in Nakivale, Uganda




Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

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

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

The Oubangui River is a vital source of food and water for the hundreds of thousands living along its 1,000-kilometre-long course, and many rely on it for transport, trade and agriculture. The river, forming the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Central African Republic and Republic of Congo, has also been a life-saving bridge to safety for people fleeing the waves of violence that plague this deprived region - and a route back home when peace returns. This year, more than 40,000 terrified people have fled conflict in Central African Republic and crossed the river to find shelter in DRC's Equateur and Oriental provinces. Here they have received a warm welcome from the local people, many of whom know exactly what it is like to be a refugee. Time and again, newly arrived refugees from CAR seek out people they once hosted in Bangui and other places along the river. And these old friends are offering them and their families places in already cramped homes, and sharing their meagre resources. Photographer Brian Sokol recently travelled to Equateur province to document the extraordinary bond between the refugees and host communities. These are some of his striking portraits of hosts and their guests. They know that one day their roles could be reversed by the ebb and flow of violence.

Shared Experience Binds Hosts and Refugees Across the Oubangui River

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

Faced with nearly 200,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur fleeing into the barren desert of eastern Chad, the UN refugee agency has essentially had to build small villages – including shelter, latrines, water supply and basic services – to accommodate the refugees and help them survive in a hostile natural environment with scarce local resources. The 11 camps set up so far shelter more than 166,000 refugees from Darfur.

While much work still needs to be done, especially to find sufficient water in the arid region, life in the camps has reached a certain level of normalcy, with schools and activities starting up and humanitarian aid regularly distributed to the residents. Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to improve services and living conditions in the existing camps and is working to set up new camps to take in more refugees from the ongoing violence in Darfur.

Camp Life in Eastern Chad

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

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.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.