Ensuring Sustained Access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Services in Internally Displacement Camps

5 Mins read

Hadiza Mohammed and Ohanu Dabri Olohije (Lead Writers)

Liliatu Ayuba, a traditional birth attendant (TBA) in the Durumi Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Abuja, had been struggling with water shortages since she became a TBA. She explained that due to water scarcity, residents were forced to walk several kilometres to a shallow river to fetch water. 

When we arrived at the camp in 2014, we faced hardship due to the lack of water. We had to walk a few kilometres to get dirty water from a river. Despite this, we were not concerned because, compared to what we left behind due to the Boko Haram invasion, this situation felt like a blessing.” Ayuba said.

A shallow river at Durumi IDP camp which was the only source of water for the IDP camp dwellers. Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

This river was the only source of water for the IDP camp dwellers and according to Ayuba, although the river was heavily polluted, it was used for cooking, drinking, bathing, and other daily activities.

In Nigeria, over 66 million people do not have access to drinking water from improved sources such as piped water or protected wells. The lack of access to clean water, good sanitation, and hygiene practices is responsible for nearly 88% of the country’s disease burden, with children bearing the highest burden. According to a study, Nigeria is the second-highest contributor to global under-five mortality rates from diarrhoea, with over 151,700 deaths each year.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

The problem worsens with long-term relocation. Internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict often find themselves in overcrowded and under-resourced camps. These conditions can accelerate the spread of infections, while inadequate access to hygiene goods and services further jeopardises health outcomes, increasing the risk of diseases such as cholera.

Bridging the gap

However, hope came for Ayuba and other residents at the Durumi IDP camp in 2015. The Rotary Club took a significant step to alleviate the hardships faced by residents of the Durumi IDP camp by installing two water tanks. The installation of these water tanks was a crucial part of the Rotary Club’s broader commitment to improving living conditions and promoting public health in vulnerable communities.

The enterance to Durumi IDP camp, Area 1, Abuja. 
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

This initiative aimed not only to reduce the suffering of the camp’s inhabitants, but also to improve their access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services. Fatima Ismail, a mother of five, said that the WASH intervention has significantly improved her life. She now has access to clean drinking water without having to walk long distances or spending any money to obtain it.

The intervention has been extremely beneficial for me, as I no longer need to spend money on water for household chores. Now, I simply go to the tank to collect clean water. The only time we are unable to fetch water is when there is no power or fuel to run the pump”. Fatima shared.

Although this initiative significantly alleviated the water situation initially, it soon became insufficient to service the growing population, since one of the tanks was damaged and left unrepaired.

In 2018/2019, to commemorate World Water Day, the Nigerian Institution of Water Engineers (NIWE) installed a water tank in the IDP camp to supplement the existing supply. This initiative aimed to bridge the gap in access to water supply and other WASH facilities within the camp.

Water tanks installed by the Rotary Club and the Nigerian Institution of Water Engineers (NIWE) in Durumi IDP camp. Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

According to Engr. Dr. Marvin Paul Agwoko, chairman of NIWE, the WASH project in the camp has significantly improved hygiene and the overall quality of life for the residents. The project has positively impacted over 70% of the camp’s population, providing them with better access to clean water, improved sanitation facilities, and education on hygiene practices. This has resulted in a healthier living environment and has reduced the occurrence of waterborne diseases in the camp.

Impacting the lives of the IDPs

Efforts to address WASH needs in IDP camps require comprehensive and sustained interventions. Empowering internally displaced persons (IDP) communities with proper hygiene practices is also crucial for improving health outcomes and reducing the spread of diseases in camp settings.

Recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) issued a public alert about the rising number of cholera cases across the country as the rainy season intensifies. The lack of sufficient infrastructure in most IDP camps means that many IDPs rely on unprotected water sources, making them more vulnerable to cholera outbreaks due to their high population density.

Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Therefore, as part of the 2024 World Water Day commemoration, with the theme Water for Peace,” the Nigerian Institution of Water Engineers collaborated with the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN), Rotary Club, FCT Water Board, and Nigeria Health Watch to educate the residents of Durumi IDP Camp about essential WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) services. The educational initiatives focused on menstrual hygiene, personal hygiene, and maintaining a clean environment.

In addition, camp residents were also taught how to make reusable sanitary pads, liquid soap, disinfectants, and air fresheners for personal use and potential income generation. To further support the community, items such as sanitary pads, soaps, hand sanitisers, face masks, and buckets were distributed.

Taking ownership

To sustain the WASH intervention in the camp, Liliatu Ayuba who is also the women leader gathers the women in the camp to educate them on the importance of hygiene, often reminding them that “Water is Life”. The woman leader also encourages them to contribute 50–100 Naira to buy fuel for the borehole pump, ensuring they have a reliable water supply for daily use instead of fetching water from the river or buying from water sellers –Mai ruwa. This collective effort has been crucial in maintaining the WASH intervention, reducing reliance on the organisations that initiated the project, and fostering self-sufficiency among the camp residents.

A photo of two IDP campers fetching clean water from the installed water tanks.
Image credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Water is life

According to Ayuba, after the borehole was constructed, the camp dwellers were also provided with a generator to ensure a continuous water supply during power outages and fuel to last for three to four months. However, as time passed, the generator became faulty, and there were no funds available for repairs or additional fuel. This situation has once again left the community reliant on donor organisations to assist in accessing water from the borehole.

Another significant challenge is that two out of the three water tanks are non-functional, leaving only one operational tank. This single tank is insufficient to meet the needs of the more than 3,000 residents living in the camp. Consequently, the limited water supply exacerbates daily struggles and compromises the community’s ability to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation, further underscoring the urgent need for repairs and sustainable solutions.

While strides have been made to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions in Durumi IDP camp, ongoing support and sustainable solutions are crucial to ensure lasting benefits for its residents. Access to water is a basic human right, therefore, there is a need for interventions that ensure access to WASH services for displaced communities in Nigeria.

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