A report published this month by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and charity Oxfam investigates how water supplies can be managed in long-term humanitarian crises.
"Water Supply in Protracted Humanitarian Crises" finds that long-lasting crises can have an eroding effect on infrastructure and the institutions responsible for service delivery, including humanitarian agencies and host governments. Service levels may decline as a result, and problems can persist if sustainability is not considered from the outset.
UNHCR estimates that the average time spent by a refugee in a camp is ten years, and the average refugee camp lasts for 26 years. Water – for drinking, domestic purposes and sanitation – is a crucial component of the humanitarian response and longer-term recovery.
Water supply is among the most essential services to establish. But it requires relatively complex infrastructure, such as bulk water treatment and water distribution networks, so the infrastructure required is often akin to an urban water supply system.
Researchers examined a variety of water service delivery models that would enable humanitarian and development agencies to work together to smooth the transition from emergency relief to sustainable services.
They looked into the measures that humanitarian agencies have taken to ensure a more durable water supply service delivery, identify a number of gaps, and make some recommendations for addressing them.
In six case studies, contributors from Oxfam, UNHCR and UNICEF provide examples from different humanitarian crises across the world – Bangladesh, Ethiopa, Ghana, Jordon, Nepal and Uganda. They describe practical measures for delivering more durable water supply services.
The example from Jordan describes a clear transition from emergency to post-emergency water supply. And the case study from Ethiopia highlights the challenges organisations face when trying to establish new water utility services, along with the need for ongoing technical, managerial and financial support to prevent service levels declining.
“Emergency response work needs to transition into longer-term solutions that will serve affected populations for many years or even decades,” the report states. “This will help to ensure that people can access better quality services and encourages practitioners and decision makers to think beyond camp situations".
Because people who reach refugee camps may be there for many years before they are repatriated or integrated within host communities, agreed standards of service delivery should continue indefinitely until permanent solutions are found.At the end of 2019, there were 15.7 million refugees in protracted situations, representing 77 Percent of all refugees.