Water and Sanitation Crisis Interventions- A Red Cross Perspective

Caption and Credit: 
Julia (centre) at one of the water taps shared by refugees and members of the host community in Rhino Camp. Photo by Irene Nakasiita.

 

By Irene Nakasiita – Uganda Red Cross Society

“Thirst nearly killed me. I drunk dirty water on the way together with my children. The sun was too hot; we had walked close to 80 kilometers without any food or water. I almost collapsed but we managed to pull it through to Uganda.” 38-year-old Julia Amer, mother 0f 5 children in Imvepi refugee settlement, West Nile, Northern Uganda. She’s now able to access clean and safe water. Thanks to water tap constructed by Uganda Red Cross in the community where she lives.

While Julia now smiles with access to clean and safe water, Water, essential as it is for human survival, remains one of the scarce resources that host communities continue to share with the growing number of refugees from South Sudan on a daily basis.  Severe water shortages in the West Nile contribute to high mortality due to disease outbreaks, hunger / malnutrition which have been named among the major humanitarian crises. Uganda Red Cross with support from the federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent through partner National Societies (German Red Cross, Swedish Red Cross, Austrian Red Cross and British Red Cross) launched efforts to improve water access through the provision of the M40 (Emergency response Unit M40) and the Mass Sanitation Module (MSM) respectively.

 

An Emergency Response Unit is a standardized package of trained personnel and modules of equipment, ready to be deployed at short notice depending on health care needs in the most efficient way to mitigate the crisis.

The Mass Sanitation Module (MSM) complements the M40. It exists to provide appropriate sanitation facilities for up to 20,000 people, with the aim of reducing sanitation and hygiene related mortality and morbidity. It comprises of a team of trained delegates and packed sets of standardized equipment that can be deployed to work with host Red Cross National Society to mobilize volunteers, providing rapid training for delivery of both hardware and software components of the module. In summary, the sanitation services that the MSM aims to provide are safe excreta disposal; solid waste disposal; waste water disposal; medical waste disposal; vector control; provision of hand washing, bathing and laundry facilities; promotion of good hygiene practices; household water treatment; and advice on the management of dead bodies.

With the M40, Uganda Red Cross is able to supply water to about 60,000 people per day, serving 15 litres per person, per day. The M40 is complemented with the promotion of good hygiene and sanitation practices under the MSM arrangements. URCS trained hygiene and sanitation volunteers ensure that there are communal latrines in place, hand washing tools, clean / sweep around the reception centers, train all refugees on good hygiene and sanitation promotion, move to the settlement camps to ensure the same practices are taken up, supply toilet construction materials and that all families are empowered with knowledge to keep healthy.

The water from the river is not safe, but with the “M40 tools”, URCS is able to purify water to globally acceptable standards before being stored in the tanks for trucking. It is tested to ensure that it meets the acceptable standards for human consumption.

 

The Red Cross ensures that the water is made available through trucking as well as water taps which refugees and host communities benefit from.

While all the above is being done, there is more to be done. Water and Sanitation education Volunteers are strained in this exercise.  More deployments are needed to improve the volunteer to community ratios which is currently at about 1:500. Although volunteers are not paid, the Red Cross relies on humanitarian funding to facilitate them in field operations. More hygiene and sanitation tools are also needed to reach the bigger number of refugees that come into Uganda each day.

“The Red Cross continues to battle this emergency by expanding the water infrastructure and distributing water collection tools like clean jerricans, hand washing tools, buckets so that the beneficiaries are able to collect, store and keep water safe. We also train them in hygiene promotion but when new arrivals come, we have to continuously keep available to support them too. This requires resources which need to be funded for effective service delivery.” Says Kyagaba, Uganda Red Cross Wash Coordinator.

There is also need for more IEC materials to fill the huge gap of access to information for continuous education and behavioral change. These materials have to be replicated in various dialects and delivery channels for effective mobilization.

“For us to deliver on our key mandates as humanitarian actors, we need support to serve the growing number of refugees in a better way. For example, Water is very vital for human survival. Apparently, Uganda Red Cross serves the biggest portion of the different camps with water. We only serve each refugee with 15 litres of water per person per day. As per the sphere standards, one needs about 20 litres a day hence the need for support for us to increase water production and supply.” – Robert Kwesiga, Secretary General Uganda Red Cross Society.

 

Contact: www.redcrossug.org Facebook: Uganda Red Cross Society Twitter: @ugandaredcross