Sustainable Flood Resilience in Refugee Camps: Combining Sustainable Drainage with WASH

Organisation: Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University

Partners: Board of Relief and Humanitarian Affairs, Dohuk Governorate; UNHCR, Iraq; French Red Cross, Iraq (TBC); Lemon Tree Trust, Middle East Branch

Location: Dohuk Governorate, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Type of grant: WASH

Status: Ongoing

  • Stagnant water and an open drain in a refugee camp Iraq

  • Garden irrigated with greywater in domiz camp Iraq

  • An image showing when 480 Syrian Refugee plots were being built at Qushtapa Camp, outside Erbil City, Kurdistan Region of Iraq

  • Septic tanks are fed black and grey water from a row of refugee plots, and later conveyed through pipelines to a main treatment site outside of the camp

  • The camp is well networked by storm drains, although surface water, both grey and pluvial, amasses just beyond the camp in the dry season.

  • Knee and T Joints for drainage, from Babylonia, in ancient day Iraq

  • Water Sampling Sites

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There is a lack of forward planning in addressing issues around flooding and greywater management when refugee camps are planned and built. Such issues offer challenges for governance, policy, ethics, human rights, safety and security. Camps are temporary, drainage is a low priority, with residents having no ownership or right to the land, the issue is complex. Greywater is often wasted, thrown in front of dwellings resulting in runoff and pooling of contaminated water close to habitation. These can remain for days, encouraging disease vectors as well as young children playing in the water with obvious impacts on their health.


We propose to design and implement sustainable drainage (SuDS) at Domiz Refugee Camp, Dohuk, Kurdish province, Northern Iraq to address surface water flooding. SuDS mimic nature by infiltration, detention and conveyance, thus attenuating the storm peak, improving water quality, supporting biodiversity and amenity. This is the first time this has been done in such a challenging environment. We will include primary food production with robust camp greening which has been unevenly implemented, due to lack of wider institutional connection and understanding. We can improve people’s lives by instigating home gardens, composting, livestock keeping, water conservation and market gardening. These are often a low priority for UN-Agencies, NGOs and government bodies, or are discouraged as they contradict broader water use and planning policies. Limited access to water is a constraint in camp greening, and SuDS is the logical step to green camps with tree planting in microcatchments


During heavy rains camps quickly become quagmires, worsening environmental conditions. We are proposing a comprehensive water recycling/ harvesting strategy in concert with SuDS devices such as microcatchments and aggregate-filled ditches which will increase flood resilience and community self-reliance.

When drainage is incorporated at the same time as other WASH measures it tends to follow conventional practices, and comprises deep ditches that rapidly carry the water away, leading to erosion, exacerbation of flooding and inundation elsewhere. However, camp planners underestimate the amount of wastewater produced when fully populated and in receipt of daily water supplies resulting in high volumes of waste overloading surrounding fragile ecosystems. Experience has shown that it is better to incorporate drainage earlier on. Oxfam TBN8 states that drainage design has to begin “backwards”, from the receiving water body. Conversely, SuDS advocate addressing the problem from the source – where the water falls, making use of that water.


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

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