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Uganda's generosity to refugees continues despite limited resources


Uganda's generosity to refugees continues despite limited resources

Uganda continues to implement its open-door policy to protect those forced to flee and the integration of refugees into public service across sectors such as education, health, water, and sanitation.
6 July 2023
Nikuze Rachel (left) and her neighbours Tumusifu Marcelina  and Shimiyimana Charlotte collect water at a water point in her neighbourhood in Rubondo, Nakivale refugee settlement. As a water user committee member, she helps to protect and care for the community water source.

Nikuze Rachel (left) and her neighbours Tumusifu Marcelina  and Shimiyimana Charlotte collect water at a water point in her neighbourhood in Rubondo, Nakivale refugee settlement.

Nikuze Rachel, a mother of 10, sits outside her home in the Nakivale refugee settlement, in southwestern Uganda, and stares at the luscious green valley leading to Lake Nakivale. It’s early morning.

"My body would ache from carrying heavy jerrycans up the steep slope," she recalls when she had to walk downhill to get water for her family from the lake. "I could only fetch a few litres daily, and the water was unsafe,"

Rachel and two of her children fled their home in Bunagana, DR Congo, to Uganda in 2006 and were settled in the Nakivale settlement. She remembers the hurdles she faced on the weeklong journey to safety.

“We faced continuous attacks along the way, but we couldn’t go back because we knew things were worse back at home.”

In Uganda, Rachel and her family received assistance and were allocated land in Nakivale refugee settlement. But with the fast growth of the population due to the continued arrival of refugees and asylum seekers mainly from DR Congo and South Sudan, land allocated to them has been shrinking and putting pressure on natural resources including water that are already stretched thin.

To respond to the growing lack of available water, UNHCR and the Federal German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) set up the Misiera surface water treatment plant in 2008. The plant draws water from Lake Nakivale, treats it, and distributes it to the refugees and surrounding host communities.

Despite efforts to provide adequate water to refugees and host communities, the growing population of refugees has overwhelmed the capacity of the water plant. Currently, refugees are provided with an average of 13 litres of water per person per day against the recommended 20 litres, forcing refugees to rely on alternative water sources to fill the gap, most of which are unsafe sources.

“Water is one of our biggest challenges,” says Rachel. “I only get 4-5 jerrycans of water per day for my family for laundry, bathing and cooking.”

Rachel is the water committee chair for her village and is responsible for ensuring each family has access to the precious liquid.

"As a water committee member, I ensure order is maintained at the tap stands, and everyone gets an equal share of water," says Rachel. Together with other committee members, Rachel also ensures that any water leaks are reported, and appropriate action is taken to fix the vice.

"This tap has brought people together because they meet at the point where they get water. We tell stories, laugh, and make friends at the water taps," says Rachel.

The water committee collects 1,000Ugx (0.27 USD) from every household on a monthly basis to help in the running of the water committees’ activities.

Since January, almost 20,000 newly arrived refugees like Nyiravumera Janine, a mother of two, have settled in Rubondo village in Nakivale's refugee settlement. Janine faces even more challenges in accessing water.

"When I need water, I have to borrow a jerrycan from my neighbor. And since I have to give it back, I have to wash my clothes quickly.” Janine says.

Away from her busy day, Rachel dedicates some of her time to sensitizing her community and especially the newly arrived refugees on the efficient use of water.

“You have to place value to the water you have and use it sparingly otherwise it will not meet your needs.”

In March, a high-level EU delegation and UNHCR went to Nakivale Refugee Settlement to assess ongoing and prospective projects aimed at assisting refugees, as well as the Ugandans who live alongside them.

During the joint visit, Myriam Ferran, Deputy Director-General at DG International Partnerships (DG INTPA), European Commission, announced an additional EUR 15 million in funding to support the Ugandan refugee response in partnership with UNHCR.

"The European Union recognizes Uganda for its progressive refugee hosting model," said Ferran. "We are now strengthening our support to Uganda's national refugee response, in partnership with UNHCR, through this additional funding, which aims to bridge the humanitarian-to-development gap."

Uganda is a co-convener for this year's Global Refugee Forum, which will be held in Geneva in December 2023 to bring together global leaders and stakeholders to discuss concrete solutions to address the pressing needs of refugees and host communities.

The new funding partnership between the EU, UNHCR, and the Ugandan government stands out as an example of the kind of humanitarian-to-development support that the Global Refugee Forum seeks to promote. EU’s additional funding for Uganda is earmarked to enhance and support services in Health, Energy and Environment, water, sanitation, hygiene, and livelihoods.

"This funding from the EU is critical to support refugee-hosting areas and is needed now more than ever," said UNHCR's Mazou. "Uganda has demonstrated immense generosity to refugees, despite limited resources. We continue to appeal for more international solidarity – including from development institutions – to step-up support and ensure the well-being and dignity of refugees and their local communities."

Nakivale refugee settlement was set up in 1958, and it is now home to more than 160,000 people, almost three times as many as it was a decade ago, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Uganda hosts the most refugees in Africa with over 1.5 million people.