Water: needs of refugees and host communities


The overwhelming surge in refugee numbers in Uganda has resulted in exceptional constraints on capacities to deliver effective water, sanitation and hygiene services, and necessitated collective action to address related needs.

Currently, there are over 30 partners working in the refugee operations in Uganda to ensure that refugees and local populations in refugee-hosting areas have access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene services of sufficient quality and quantity.

Early this year, UNHCR led in setting up a National WASH Humanitarian Coordination Platform - anchored under the Ministry of Water and Environment (MoWE)’s department of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, with co-lead arrngements with both MoWE and UNICEF.  

In order to meet the minimum water needs for refugees and host populations, 23,604m³ of water is needed per day (based on the UNHCR standard of 15-20 litres/person/day).

Currently, partners are providing 19,385m³ of water to the populations in the settlements, which translates to approximately 16.4 litres/person/day. This meets the SPHERE standard for water.

There are 69 motorised water systems (high yielding boreholes/ piped networks); and 1048 hand pumps installed in the refugee settlements. These do not however address the water access gaps estimated at 11,388m³ overall, which is currently partly addressed through water trucking.

Water trucking accounts for approximately 35% of the water supplied in the settlements - 61% in West Nile region.

To address the water supply gaps, prioritization of investments in the following areas is recommended:

  • Hydrogeological prospection - including remote sensing for hard rock areas in the settlements - to identify potential locations where high yielding boreholes can be drilled
  • Rehabilitate existing water systems - in and around the refugee settlements
  • Instal sustainable water supply systems: high yielding boreholes with piped water networks; develop artesian wells that were drilled and not developed due to lack of funding.
  • Develop dams where possible to provide additional water points that could be used for other purposes (cleaning, livelihood activities) to take pressure off drinking water sources
  • Consider operation and maintenance issues in the plans for sustainable water supply systems (10% capital cost for O+M, Training and equipping pump mechanics, water user committees, mobile water testing kits)
  • Broaden partnerships to allow room for innovation and capacity development in the sector e.g. seconding government staff to our operations; working with academic institutions e.g. hydrogeological studies/ research; working with private sector actors
  • Support government structures to integrate data on water facilities in the refugee settlements in the existing systems (BH coding);
  • Water-point mappingstrengthen related data collection
  • Align refugee interventions with the long-term development actions through sector coordination - both at national and district/ settlement levels (including participation in and contributing to the district development consultations/ plans) - considering that these water infrastructures will be handed over to the government.