Over 172,000 refugees have been received at the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement Camp making it one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
Over 80% of the refugees are women and children as the men and boys have either remained behind to protect assets such as cattle, or have been killed, have been abducted or are participating in the fighting.
One of the most critical needs remains that of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene).
Refugees in Uganda are given the right to work and travel freely throughout the country and are even permitted to vote and run for office at a local level. At the refugee settlement camps they are given materials to build homes and a plot of land to cultivate. The World Bank has called Uganda’s refugee policy “one of the most progressive and generous in the world.” However, one cannot expect the Ugandan government to provide for this huge influx of refugees without international assistance as the majority of refugees arrive penniless with only the clothes on their backs. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) through the leadership of Commandant Robert along with a lead from UNHCR have worked closely together to procure land and to organize the NGO groups who have arrived to assist in the day-to-day operation of the ever growing camp. To date, these organizations have been able to work together to receive and to provide life necessities for the refugees.
One of the most critical needs remains that of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) as the gatekeeper for the prevention of diseases such as cholera and dysentery. Currently the water and latrine needs are barely keeping pace with the growing population but we are happy to report that there are no current outbreaks of cholera. This situation could change if there are heavy rains as there continues to be open defecation while people wait for the completion of latrines and the provision of clean water. Meanwhile many are forced to use the bush to relieve themselves and to walk to nearby streams or stagnant water bodies to collect water.
World Renew in partnership with Here is Life (HIL) continues to work on the construction of 350 latrine/bathhouse units. HIL decided to hire up to four construction companies so as to build the units as quickly as possible. Local men are hired to dig the latrine pits using shovels and pickaxes in temperatures that can rise to the low 30s. The pits need to be dug in designated areas so that one latrine/bathhouse unit is placed in proximity to ten families. Following UN international standards, the latrine pits must be a depth of meters and measure 2 meters long by 90 centimeters wide or 5.5 square meters. The soil in many parts of the zone that the latrines are currently being dug is rocky and where a pit could be dug in five hours in sandy soil, the pits are now taking up to three times as long. There is the temptation to not dig as deep but HIL field staff is ensuring that standards are being met and sometimes it means that the pit is longer and wider and not quite as deep. They have also been able to use the Oxfam jackhammer and operator to assist in breaking up the rock which at times can be hit at a depth of one meter.
Complementing the latrine/bathhouse units are the handwashing facilities and latrine maintenance kits which were to be distributed by community hygienists. However, these NGO agencies are no longer able to deliver the kits or able to find and train enough hygienists to cover all zones and families. The price of providing the handwashing facilities and latrine maintenance kits would be approximately 50,000 UGX or $15 USD/each or $5,250 for the 350 latrine/bathhouse units currently under construction. The handwashing kit would not be as extravagant as the one pictured but to keep down costs an improvised hand washing facility using a jerry can and a latrine handwashing kit containing a bucket, gloves, brush and bleach/soap would be sufficient. We are confident that they will be used and maintained by the refugee communities as we have witnessed them doing in our previous latrine project of 180 units. Speaking with a number of refugees we know that the refugee families are very aware of the critical role hand washing and latrine cleanliness is in keeping away disease.
After three to four months, refugee families are expected to construct their own house latrines with assistance provided by hygiene workers if required. It is expected that the refugees will begin to build more permanent structures and begin working towards self-sufficiency. Farm land has been provided adjacent to the housing sectors for the refugees to be able to access.
World Renew has been asked to also build latrines in areas where people with disabilities and their families have been settled. To make these units more accessible, one unit is constructed for every six families or 30 people. One of these refugees is an elderly woman, Beste Gire, who lost three of her four sons to rebels as they entered her village of Pian almost two weeks ago. She was able to flee with her remaining two children and their families but one of her two remaining children succumbed to illness at the Ugandan border leaving her with one daughter who is suffering from malaria and a broken wrist. Although she told us that she is filled with sorrow with the death of her children, Beste is grateful for the care her daughter-in-law has shown not only to her but also her daughter and grandchildren: “Without her I would not be able to survive as I am unable to walk or care for myself since I broke my hip ten years ago and now also suffer from malaria and diabetes.” The latrine/bathhouse unit near her shelter was near completion and Beste spoke about how important it was to have it completed as she feared the rains and possible disease from the open defecation that was now occurring. “I would have given up if it were not for the comfort I receive through the reading of my Bible,” Beste tells us through an interpreter. “Everything is in the hands of God. I cannot go forward or behind.” Her prayer and wish is for the wars to end and that her people could live in peace.
As IRMs we have been privileged to volunteer with World Renew for eleven years and have witnessed the devastation that natural disasters can bring and were grateful that we, who are so much more fortunate, could assist those whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed. We marvel at the resourcefulness of the people and their determination to recover and to continue with their lives the best they are able. This man-made disaster is much more difficult to comprehend as wars often are. We pray for peace not only for South Sudan but wherever there is war as we personally witness the effects that war brings to so many families. We ask for your continued prayers for the people who lost loved ones, who are witnesses to unbelievable cruelty, and who struggle to begin anew in a country that is not their own.
Image Credit: Natalia Jidovanu