Refugee Camps Struggle as Uganda Water Crisis Intensifies
Residents in many corners of Uganda are facing intense struggles as the country enters its fifth month of a severe water crisis. Several areas of the country have not received rainfall for months, the negative effects of which are many: barren farmlands, dried up valley dams, and vegetation highly vulnerable to wildfires.
“Everywhere you go, people are staring at a water crisis,” says William Omeke, chairman of Ongongoja sub-county in the eastern Katakwi District.
This crisis has had a particularly damaging effect on refugee settlement camps, especially those in the West Nile districts of Uganda. As time wears on, refugees are experiencing the direct effects of the ongoing drought, including having to spend hours waiting in line and traveling long distances in order to retrieve water.
One woman says she has to push a bicycle for over three miles to access the nearest borehole. She does this at least twice a day. “The queues at the borehole get [so] unbearable that we have to struggle with cattle keepers who are also watering their animals at the boreholes,” she says. “We are suffering. I struggle with the child on my back for long hours on the way yet it is baking hot [to ride] for long distances to have water for use at home.”
To make matters worse, much of the accessible water is unsafe. Nearly 25 percent of Uganda’s population lacks access to clean water, and over 80 percent lacks access to adequate sanitation. In fact, “drinking unsafe water is one of the leading causes of death and disease across Uganda with 4,500 children dying every year due to having no option but to drink this unsafe water.”
One community in Uganda, a northern village called Orunyamo, has decided to take the issue of sanitation into its own hands. After spending months learning about hygiene and how to build latrines for their homes, many of the village’s residents have begun the project of drilling a well through which they will be able to gain access to safe water. However, many of the areas most affected by the drought lack the capabilities to do the same.
Recently, UNHCR and the Red Cross have come under fire for allegedly worsening the crisis in refugee camps, in particular.
MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo had this to say about a recent situation with the Red Cross: "Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) has started dismantling the water treatment and supply system at Angalia-Chini in Itula Sub-county and yet the system is in good condition.
“But the question is at the end of its contract with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), should Uganda Red Cross or any other non-governmental organisation dismantle the project facilities established or run by her staff to serve the refugees and host communities for example water tanks, pipes, generators and pumping stations, schools and health centres in the refugees settlement and carry away the parts?"
Mr. Fungaroo said there had been prior attempts by the Red Cross to dismantle a similar water treatment plant in Obongi-Town Council, though they had been unsuccessful.
The Red Cross and UNHCR have yet to comment on how they plan to address the ongoing crisis in the resettlement camps.
Concerns about these organizations and how they have allegedly dealt with the water crisis is causing some to question the stability of other programs reliant on their assistance.
"With this trend of events, are the other facilities such as schools, health centres, among others, safe? What should we do?" asked Mr. Fungaroo.
Considering that the ongoing drought has already had harmful effects on education and productivity in general, this question remains open-ended.