More support needed for refugees in Uganda

Six weeks after an outbreak of violence in South Sudan forced tens of thousands to flee, the situation of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda is still critical. More than 70,000 have fled to Adjumani, Northern Uganda, where The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Dan Church Aid (DCA) is responding to the ongoing influx from the neighbouring country. Most recently, a cholera outbreak has threatened especially children in a newly installed settlement.

According to UNHCR, more than 100,000 people have fled from South Sudan to Northern Uganda since July 7, 2016. “Refugees cite the fragile security situation, fighting, torture, looting of properties and hunger as reasons for fleeing. Women and children constitute 90 percent of new arrivals, while the low number of males further testifies to the forceful recruitment of men and youth by armed forces,” says Jesse Kamstra, LWF Country Representative in Uganda.

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Aerial shot of a refugee settlement in Adjumani. The houses are more spaced out because every refugee family is also allocated a plot of land. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

Focus on water and sanitation

The majority of the new arrivals have been moved to Pagirinya, a new refugee settlement opened by the UN refugee agency  and managed by the LWF. The camp’s capacity for 17,000 people has exceeded with the latest count of almost 21,000 inhabitants.

In the settlement’s reception centers the high number of new arrivals has made it difficult to provide adequate shelter, water and sanitation for all. A cholera outbreak was confirmed in mid-August, with 85 cases to date. With great effort, LWF together with national actors and the UNHCR have managed to contain the outbreak and to decongest the center.

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Refugees collecting water at a borehole. As this is usually the task of women and children, LWF is installing more tap stands to make sure people do not have to walk too far. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

Many of these measures aim at preventing the disease from spreading further. LWF plans to  install one latrine per household. “Personal latrines are better maintained, they are closer to the people and therefore encourage good hygiene much more than communal latrines,” explains LWF staff Adrian Denyer. The task however is daunting: To provide for all households, LWF needs to construct 4,000 outhouses. Denyer sees the latrines as crucial to contain any diarrhoeal diseases. “If a borehole is further away, people have to walk. But if a latrine is further away, they will just defecate in the open,” he says.

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A family latrine. Privacy is ensured by building huts around them. The jerry can and soap in front are used to wash hands. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

LWF is also constructing additional boreholes, and doing sanitation campaigns among the refugees and in the host communities to make sure the disease does not spread to the local villages. “The imminent rainy season is another reason to re-double our efforts,” adds  Denyer.

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A “Tippy-tap” is easy to build: A jerry can, connected by a piece of string to the ground, enables people to wash their hands without touching anything with them. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

Food, relief goods, protection

In Uganda, refugees are registered and allocated a plot of land to support themselves by the local government. Most refugees build their own houses with the items provided by UNHCR and others found in the area. Over 19,000 individuals have been allocated land while the reminders still live in temporary shelters constructed by LWF.

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A family growing sweet potatoes on their plot of land. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

In the registration center in Pagirinya, LWF provides food, relief goods and protection services. “We have constructed 24 community shelters for 150 people each, built 176 latrines, constructed 17 water points, given out more than 40,000 packages of relief goods and sanitary kits for women and girls and put up solar security lights,” LWF Country Representative Kamstra illustrates the  extent of the operation. 70 community shelters are currently under construction.

Special attention is given to the identification and care for people with special needs, such as small children, the elderly, new mothers and people living with disabilities. 2,848 have been identified so far. Persons with special needs do not have to build their own houses. They, as well as large families, are also given priority in the allocation of land in the Pagirinya settlements.

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A refugee family in their new hut. They have also received chemically treated poles to construct their own latrine. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

Ease tensions with host community

LWF Environment teams also facilitate the planting of tree seedlings in order to protect the environment and to prevent conflict with the host communities when the refugees cut down trees for shelter and firewood. The number of refugees in the district has now exceeded the local population, who have been accepting and integrating large refugee movements from South Sudan in previous years as well.

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A newly arrived refugee family in Pagirinya. Photo: LWF/ A. Denyer

“We are very grateful for the support of our partners,” LWF Uganda Country Representative Kamstra says. “Still more efforts are needed to be able to meet at least the basic demands of those who came here looking for peace and safety.” Among the needs that urgently have to be addressed are those of children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents. Other needs include safety measures such as more solar lights and guards, as well as environmental action and garbage collection.

According to UNHCR estimates, an additional 110,000 refugees from South Sudan are expected in Northern Uganda until the end of the year.

The LWF refugee response in Adjumani is supported by UNHCR, ACT Alliance, Bread for the World, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, Church of Sweden, DanChurch Aid, USAID and UNICEF.

This post originally appeared on the Lutheran World Federation website

Click here to make a donation to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda

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