Battling to keep disease out of Uganda’s refugee camps

Published: 13 March 2014 8:14 CET

By Susan Onyango

When violence broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, tens of thousands of people fled into neighbouring Uganda for safety. They are now housed in various settlements around Adjumani, approximately 440 kilometres north of Kampala, near the border with South Sudan.

Sanitation facilities at the Nyumanzi transit camp cannot meet the demand. Water shortages and poor sanitation mean refugee families are at higher risk of disease and epidemic outbreaks.

“Sanitation conditions at the Nyumanzi transit camp are stretched. There are not enough pit latrines to serve the number of refugees in the camp,” said Emmanuel Khamis Napoleon, a hygiene promotion and community service volunteer with the Uganda Red Cross Society. “In addition, we lack sufficient gloves and gumboots to keep the facilities clean.”

Existing toilet facilities do not offer sufficient privacy, forcing refugees to use them in the night. Others also have to wait for the cover of darkness to take their baths in the open. Without proper facilities in place, refugees wash their clothes on the open ground, sometimes close to water points or next to their shelters. This is the situation in all the settlement camps around Adjumani.

“There are not enough bathrooms and toilets for all of us,” said Akon Woi, a refugee from South Sudan. “We have to use communal facilities that are often not clean.”

Water is delivered to the camps in trucks and poured into tanks in strategic positions. But there are only a limited number of tanks available, which means the trucks are making several trips to the River Nile and boreholes close by to collect water.

With the support of the Norwegian Red Cross Society, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has installed a water and sanitation disaster response kit in the Adjumani district. This kit will help improve the water and sanitation conditions in the refugee camps. It is designed to support 5,000 refugees with safe drinking water, basic sanitation facilities including emergency latrine construction, hygiene promotion and disease prevention. It can treat up to 75,000 litres of water, some of which can then be transported to distribution points. The Uganda Red Cross Society is operating the water and sanitation disaster response kit, and is carrying out hygiene promotion to prevent the outbreak of disease which is often a threat during emergency situations.

IFRC has launched an emergency appeal of 1,722,559 Swiss francs to enable the Uganda Red Cross to provide much needed assistance to these refugees. This appeal will improve the living conditions of 25,000 refugees from South Sudan by providing safe water, shelter, and improved access to health services.

As we celebrate World Water Day, we call on all stakeholders to collaborate with us and help South Sudanese refugees live with dignity and respect. Access to clean water, sanitation and health education is a human right that should be given to each and every one, regardless of where they live.


Next week on, read how the Uganda Red Cross Society is working against all odds to ensure child refugees from South Sudan, who have made the treacherous journey to Uganda alone, are reunited with their families.

Getting the balance right

The IFRC has well-established disaster response mechanisms and capacities. Through our emergency assistance and long term Global Water and Sanitation Initiative, in 2012 we brought water and sanitation services or information on hygiene and disease prevention to 3 million people.