The Future is Equal

Clean water for refugees: Stories of our emergency response to the crisis in Darfur and Chad

For some of the 200 000 refugees from Darfour sprawled in camps along the Sudanese border in Eastern Chad, living conditions finally got a little better last week thanks to the opening of the new camp of Gaga, where engineers from international agency Oxfam managed to build an entire water system in record time.

For some of the 200 000 refugees from Darfour sprawled in camps along the Sudanese border in Eastern Chad, living conditions finally got a little better last week thanks to the opening of the new camp of Gaga, where engineers from international agency Oxfam managed to build an entire water system in record time.

“This opening of a new camp is very important to alleviate the burden of existing camps that are overcrowded. Oxfam made boreholes, installed water tanks, latrines and the water distribution system,” said Oxfam aid worker Cedric Fedida. “The camp was entirely built out of nothing, and a small town is literally springing out of the desert”. Gaga is not on the maps: it takes a good driver who knows the region, a good car and a reliable GPS to find it.

The camp is designed to accommodate up to 30 000 refugees, of which 6 500 will come from Farchana, and 10 000 from Breidjing. Breidjing was a camp originally designed for 20 000 people, but ended up with 30 000 refugees. As refugees arrive in Gaga – up to 500 a day by truck, over the next two months – they will be given tents. The first to be trucked into Gaga this week are 1500 refugees from the border who were living in temporary shelters near Adre.

Oxfam water engineers have been working long hours under the sun in the desert to set up the water system and pipelines for Gaga to be ready on time. “The teams have been under quite some pressure to finish the latrines on time for the opening on May 3rd” said Cedric Fedida. “It took a while to open this site: first trying to find water, which is not quite an exact science, and once the local authorities accepted the location, there was the planning and the actual drilling and installation to make”.

There should be just about enough time left to truck everybody in before the rainy season starts and the riverbeds start to fill, by the end of June. By then, the roads will be a lot more difficult to travel on and transfer has to be finished.

New camps like Gaga are good news for everybody, because the strain on the environment and on the local population is taking its toll. No one knows how sustainable the situation is in the long term, in this fragile, particularly arid area, in one of the already poorest countries in the world. The local population has to share whatever scarce wood and water ressources are available with 200 000 newcomers. Hydrologists are already worried that the extra stress on some of the wells providing for the refugee camps will damage the water table, as is the case in Iriba.

The well of Iriba provides water for Am Nabak camp, 40 km away, by truck. “In Am Nabak, the quantity of water available for the refugees is pretty low at present” says Fedida. “It is now 9 liters a day per person, but last month it fell to 5 liters. The emergency water provision internationally recomended is 15 liters a day per person, just about four gallons. Basically a bucket of water, to supply each person’s daily cooking, cleaning, clothes washing, and personal hygiene requirements. It is extremely little compared to the amount we westerners are using, in cooler climates 90 gallons a day for an American. With the dry season coming to an end, we’re waiting for the rains but it’s unclear how much water will be available. The last two rainy seasons have been very poor in rain”.

At least people in Gaga are now taken care of with enough water being provided by the three water tanks installed by Oxfam.