Safe Water for Refugees

Organisation: Médecins Sans Frontières

Partners: University of California, Berkeley, UNHCR

Location: Jordan and Rwanda

Type of grant: Core – recognition

Status: Completed

  • Chlorine quality data collection in the Gendrassa refugee camp, South Sudan, March 2013

What is the humanitarian need?
Ensuring access to adequate quantities and quality of water is essential for the control of waterborne diseases in refugee/internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Centralized batch chlorination remains one of the most widely used approaches for emergency water treatment due to its low cost, relative ease of use, and residual protection. Humanitarian organizations have developed guidelines stipulating targets for free residual chlorine (FRC) at camp water distribution points on the assumption that some chlorine residual will remain to protect the water against recontamination until consumed. These guidelines however are based on conventions stated in the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ) and derive from experience with municipal piped-water systems—i.e., from fundamentally different conditions than those encountered in refugee/IDP camps. As the CDC observes, the GDWQ targets are only appropriate when users drink water directly from the flowing taps of a piped system. These FRC levels are unlikely to provide sufficient protection when water is collected at the tapstand into containers, transported through the camp environment to shelters, and then stored for 24 hours or more before being consumed, especially in camp settings where environmental hygiene may be poor. Reports of water recontamination and associated public health impacts in both emergency and non-emergency settings abound in the literature. There is an urgent need to develop guidelines for emergency water treatment that are grounded in actual evidence from the field and can therefore reliably deliver safe water for beneficiary populations at the point of consumption.

What is the innovation?
This project will address this critical knowledge gap by launching rigorous observational studies in refugee camps in diverse climactic and environmental settings around the world. The project will investigate post-distribution chlorine decay—a first in any setting—in refugee/IDP camps in order to promulgate evidence-based targets for centralized batch chlorination. In addition, the project will also investigate factors that protect or compromise the safe water chain to help inform hygiene promotion efforts during emergencies.

What is the expected outcome?
The outcomes of this project will inform humanitarian guidelines for emergency water treatment, enabling humanitarian agencies to better protect drinking water from the point of distribution to the point of consumption in the refugee/IDP camp setting. This will help combat the spread of waterborne diseases among vulnerable displaced populations.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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