Drinking water is a major problem for many parts of Africa, particularly in refugee camps, where minimal living conditions make it difficult to secure safe drinking water. The recommended minimum amount of water a person needs in an emergency situation is 15 liters a day. In Ab Gadam, a refugee camp in southeast Chad, UNHCR struggles to provide refugees with 10 liters per person per day. Currently, in Ab Gadam the drinking water is filtered from a nearby lake, however, when the rain comes, this source of water will be cut off. UNHCR is trying to find new solutions to be able to meet this challenge.
“It is really serious…we need to increase the supply – and that is what we are working on,” said Dominique Porteaud, UNHCR’s senior water and sanitation officer. He made it clear that if a solution was not found people would turn to alternative, unsafe ways of obtaining water that could lead to disease.
Zenab, a refugee living in Ad Gadam with five children, knows all too well the effect unsanitary water can have. After having to flee their village in the troubled West Darfur region, she and her family spent weeks in the border area. While there they dug small holes in the ground to find drinking water. This drinking water was not filtered and caused Zenab’s two-year-old son Ali to get sick. After entering the Ad Gadam camp, Ali is still sick but is now receiving treatment.
As the rain season quickly approaches UNHCR has been looking at several different approaches to supply safe drinking water to the refugees of Ad Gadam. Some of these measures include increasing the number and size of water storage tanks and continuing the search for productive boreholes.
UNHCR has already developed a water treatment plant, which chemically sanitizes water brought in from the nearby lake. The plant can produce enough clean water to supply refugees with 10.5 liters per day, which is still short of the minimum recommended. Refugees have also begun to find their own source of clean drinking water. Zenab and her family collect rainwater that they use to clean clothes, pots and pans, and bathe.
To inform people about the dangers of unsafe drinking water, UNHCR has begun to run awareness programs that stress the importance of clean water, sanitation and hygiene. “It is important that everybody, including the children, know about the best use of water and the dangers of drinking dirty water,” says Barka Mahamat Barka, a UNHCR water and sanitation expert.
– Catherine Ulrich