Perpetual Water Issues Raise Questions
Volume 1, Issue 1 / December 2008
Water in Kakuma Refugee Camp is the most critical basic need to be unfairly distributed, yet people in the camp face this problem time and again. Water has been a point of dissatisfaction for years. Community leaders have raised many issues concerning water at monthly meetings with UNHCR and NGO staff, but nobody seems to heed their concerns by giving a proper solution. KANERE sat down with a staff member at the Lutheran World Federation Water Department (LWF Water) to discuss these issues.
To provide an overview of water services here in Kakuma camp, LWF Water explains how the system works. Water is drawn from underground aquifers via boreholes drilled 100 meters deep. (Of the 11 boreholes available in the camp, only seven are currently in use.) Pumps draw water from boreholes into huge water tanks, where the tank is filled and then pumped via pipes to separate taps throughout the camp. In the month of November, 36,956.4 cubic meters of water were distributed to serve 49,953 registered refugees. This means that 1,760 cubic meters of water were extracted per day from underground aquifers. This, in turn, translates into 23.8 liters of water per person per day in the refugee camp (according to official population statistics). The UNHCR standard allowance for daily water consumption is 20 liters per person daily.
Despite these statistics, people experienced water shortages camp wide in the first three weeks of November this year. People have resorted to buying water fetched by local mothers, but it is not enough for a whole day and they risk going to sleep thirsty. A water shortage in the Congolese community has led to conflict between the Congolese and Somali communities. Ironically, some institutions receive abundant water, such as Adult Education in Zone 5 or UNISA EducationCenter. At these locations, excess water is wasted instead of going to suffering communities.
LWF Water comments on the issue by explaining that they design water distribution plans based on population statistics provided by UNHCR. This statistic only includes those persons living in the camp as registered refugees. Some communities host large numbers of unregistered family or friends, thus causing overcrowding at certain water taps. “Some communities have a habit of complaining because they have so many [unregistered] relatives. So we tell them to register so we can distribute water for a given population. If they sneak in relatives, it’s difficult for us to know. So then instead of all people getting 20 liters, one might get only 15 liters,” the staff member explains.
Due to these water shortages, some refugees trek a considerable distance from their residence to fetch water at other tap locations. Upon arrival, they are often not allowed to collect water, but are asked to fetch water at their own tap or to purchase it. LWF Water notes that they are concerned with the walking distance between households and water pumps. In a 2008 survey of camp water supply, it was found that 87% of water points are within a 100-meter walking distance of households. Only 13% of water points failed to meet this standard. LWF Water claims that these exceptions are due to unregistered persons causing overcrowding at some taps and forcing neighbors to search for less congested taps.
Many refugees claim to experience poor operation of the water rationing system, reporting that pump times are not activated promptly. They point out that a lack of proper service and maintenance contributes to this issue. For example, the water pump in Kakuma Four recently broke and required two full days of service, with another day for maintenance and filling of the tank. As a result, the refugees in Kakuma Four were without water for three full days. One option was to trek several kilometers to another water pump where they may be allowed to collect water, and then to trek back home carrying 20-litre jerry cans filled with water.
LWF Water agrees that such issues are very important: “When the pump at Kakuma Four broke, we made arrangements for the transport of water to them, although it was little. Our team worked so hard that we even left at night so we could fix the tap as quickly as possible.”
Complainants suggest that some taps that are not currently in use should be repaired and opened to reduce congestion and fighting on the taps. However, LWF Water points out that many of the dysfunctional taps are broken by community members themselves. Each water pipe serves several nozzles located at different points on the pipe. In order to maintain an equal flow of water to all nozzles on the pipeline, each nozzle tap must operate at a specific pressure. However, some refugees intentionally break their water nozzles in order to get a stronger flow of water, causing a shortage of water to nozzles further down the pipeline.
“I call this a problem of being selfish. They want to fill their jerry cans very fast without minding the others who are waiting down the line,” concludes the LWF Water staff member.
In conclusion, KANERE questions the policy of water rationing for refugees. Why are refugees subject to a water rationing system while staff members living in the four compounds (NGO, World Food Program, UNHCR, and police compounds) are given unlimited water? In fact, the compounds account for 15% of total water extraction per day, while refugees account for 75% (10% is factored as loss). By contrast, the total population in the four compounds stands at an estimated 200 persons, or roughly 0.4% of the refugee population.
“I really don’t know why the situation is like this,” responds the LWF Water staff member. “I don’t think it is right. We have brought the issue to UNHCR and recommended storage tanks for a better water supply to refugees. But I can say that if all refugees were allowed continuous water, maybe the aquifers would run dry. As long as each refugee gets 20 liters of water, we feel that the situation is okay.”
If 20 liters is sufficient for each refugee, is it not also sufficient for each person living in the humanitarian compounds? “Well, I have no answer for that,” replies the LWF Water staff member.