A South Sudanese women carries a jerrycan of water on her head. Access to clean water is at the core of human life and socio- economic development.

Water for refugees and their hosts - the sun is part of the solution

Today is World Water Day; commemorated every year to draw global attention on the importance of water. In Uganda – now home to more than one million refugees from South Sudan – the Danish Refugee Council is installing solar systems which will pump water to refugees and the host community.


In September 2016, Uganda witnessed an unprecedented influx of South Sudanese refugees fleeing violence in their country.  The Uganda government puts the number of South Sudanese on its soil at more than a million. One of the immediate challenges the refugees faced was access to sufficient clean water prompting some of them to drink water from unsafe sources.

”When I first came in Rhino camp from South Sudan two years, there was not enough clean water,” said Rose Njuko, a resident of Rhino, Arua district for the last two years. ”We would go scoop out sand in the nearby Nara River and wait for water to collect.”

”The water from Nara River was not clean. Within a short time after our arrival we lost many children while others got sick,” added Njuko.

Solomon Osakan, the Arua Refugee Desk Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) observed that ”in emergency situations access to clean water is very important.” Mr Osakan said. ”Related to access to clean water is that there must be communal latrines for the refugees; and the refugees’ have to be taught on the importance of hand- washing and eating hot food,” Mr Osakan further noted.

Solar Picture 2

An aerial view of a solar powered water system constructed by the Danish Refugee Council in Imvepi refugee settlement in Arua district. The system which will be launched today can produce up to 50,000 litres of water per hour for both the refugees and the host communities.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is the lead in two consortiums responding to the South Sudan refugee situation in Uganda. In both consortiums, use of solar energy for drilled boreholes was key consideration during design phase of the projects in the pumping of underground water for use by the refugees and host communities. This is expected to reduce the cost of transporting water using trucks.

”Water trucking is very expensive and continues to drain available budget for sustainable water supply projects in the refugee settlements,” said Stanley Njau, DRC’s Country WASH Manager.

”For example to serve about 165,000 refugees in Rhino, Imvepi and Omugo settlements who entirely depend on water trucking for the daily water requirement, DRC through UNHCR funding spends about 430,000 USD per month. This amount could fund a solar motorized borehole system with water pipeline network of about 5 KM connected to about 15 tap stands, steel storage tanks which could serve 23,000 refugees – pumping 50,000 litres per hour,” said Mr Njau.

The donors who support DRC and its partners water, sanitation and hygiene activities includes - UNHCR, EU Humanitarian Aid, UK Aid, Danida, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and Grundfos.

Uganda Local Community Borehole

A group of local community members trained in borehole repair work on a broken borehole in an area occupied by communities that host the South Sudanese at Imvepi refugee settlement. Refugees and host communities share water sources thus promoting peaceful co-existence.

The objective of actors like the Danish Refugee Council and its partners like Lutheran World Federation and Action Against Hunger is to gradually eliminate the expensive water trucking and instead use solar energy complimented by diesel power to pump underground water for use by refugees and host communities. In the end, however, the WASH objective is to eliminate use of diesel powered boreholes because experience has shown that they have high maintenance and operational costs that has proven to be unsustainable

In Rhino camp, with funding from EU Humanitarian Aid, DRC is installing a solar system which like the one in Imvepi will pump 50,000 litres of water per hour to refugees and the host community

In Bidibidi, refugee settlement in Yumbe district, the Danish Refugee Council with support from Grundfos has installed four small sized solar systems (two for the refugees and two in the host communities) which will supply water to 1,000 refugees and 1,000 host community members.

For DRC and its partners, the WASH strategy is to increasingly use solar energy to pump water because it’s cheaper, cleaner, and sustainable. More so once installed, the systems have no negative effects on the environment.

”Compared to when we came water supply has improved. We hope with the water points being made, it will be better,” said Besta Jendia, 50, a resident of Rhino camp.

World Water Day

Today is World Water Day. Commemorated every year on March 22, the day is meant to draw global attention on the importance of water.

”Water is at the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself,” notes UN Water, a body that coordinates the efforts of UN entities and international organizations working on water and sanitation issues.

The 2018 theme for World Water Day is ”Nature for Water”.   The theme is meant to ”explore nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century”.

In conflict, emergency and displacement situations, due to large numbers of people fleeing their homes to locations usually without adequate clean water, sanitary and hygiene facilities, there is always a risk of outbreak of water borne diseases like cholera, dysentery and typhoid.  This risk can be prevented and mitigated through timely and appropriate provision of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services.

Both DRC led consortiums have a strong water, sanitation and hygiene component which contributes to the Uganda government’s efforts to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: “Ensuring access to water for all.”