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

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Every month, thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Somalia and Ethiopia cross the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to reach Yemen, fleeing drought, poverty, conflict or persecution. And although this year's numbers are, so far, lower than in 2012 - about 62,200 in the first 10 months compared to 88,533 for the same period last year - the Gulf of Aden remains one of the world's most travelled sea routes for irregular migration (asylum-seekers and migrants). UNHCR and its local partners monitor the coast to provide assistance to the new arrivals and transport them to reception centres. Those who make it to Yemen face many challenges and risks. The government regards Somalis as prima facie refugees and automatically grants them asylum, but other nationals such as the growing number of Ethiopians can face detention. Some of the Somalis make their own way to cities like Aden, but about 50 a day arrive at Kharaz Refugee Camp, which is located in the desert in southern Yemen. Photographer Jacob Zocherman recently visited the Yemen coast where arrivals land, and the camp where many end up.

East Africans continue to flood into the Arabian Peninsula

Internally Displaced in Chad

In scenes of devastation similar to the carnage across the border in Darfur, some 20 villages in eastern Chad have been attacked, looted, burned and emptied by roving armed groups since 4 November. Hundreds of people have been killed, many more wounded and at least 15,000 displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

Posted on 30 November 2006

Internally Displaced in Chad

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