In Ethiopia, refugees and their hosts benefit from UN water and electricity project

5 May 2010

In a bid to improve the lives of thousands of Somali refugees and the community hosting them in eastern Ethiopia, the United Nations refugee agency has completed an innovative project to make water and electricity available to residents of the semi-arid region prone to drought.

The Jarrar Valley water supply scheme in the Somali region of Ethiopia is using electricity to pump 1.3 million litres of water a day to 51,000 people, including 16,000 refugees from neighbouring Somalia, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported yesterday.

The project, built at a cost of $5 million, was formally inaugurated late last month by Alexander Aleinikoff, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. The project’s capacity will be boosted to raise the number of beneficiaries to 100,000 during the dry season, according to UNHCR.

“This is an innovative project and a good model,” said Mr. Aleinikoff, who was in Africa on his first trip as Deputy High Commissioner. “It provides an important source of water to the refugees and also benefits the local community, but is also good for the environment and saves money,” he added.

UNHCR funded the extension of the electricity grid to the Jarrar Valley, enabling the agency to use the power to pump water from seven wells. Residents along the power lines have also benefited from the electricity.

“We are now able to fully meet the needs of the refugees and, of course, it was logical to extend the service to the local people,” said Anthony Mulenga, UNHCR’s water engineer in charge of the Jarrar Valley scheme. “It is also cost-effective. By switching from diesel to electric, we have slashed our costs from $7,000 to $2,700 a month,” he added.

Previously, tanker trucks were used to bring water to Kebribeyah refugee camp, an expensive and logistically cumbersome way of supplying the commodity.

Kebribeyah camp now has 28 water outlets, up from four just five years ago, while the daily water output has increased from 12 litres to 20 litres for each of the 16,000 refugees now living in the camp. The easy availability of water also means that women no longer have to risk their safety by walking long distances to fetch water.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Somali refugees strain resources of neighbouring countries, UN official warns

Thousands of Somalis fleeing the violence in their homeland are expected to cross into neighbouring countries this year where they will add to already overcrowded and under-resourced conditions in camps, the deputy United Nations chief for refugees said today.