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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.

Site under construction, with trees being planted and landscaping undertaken, November 2018
Community member gardens the site
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Read 'Sustainable Drainage in Challenging Environments'

Published in New Water Policy and Practice Journal, this paper shows the potential of sustainable drainage systems to address issues of excess surface water and lack of greywater management in challenging environments such as informal settlements, favelas and refugee camps.

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Latest Updates

Designing, Constructing and Monitoring a SuDS Site at Gawilan Refugee Camp, Iraq

7 Apr 2019

The demonstration site is nearing completion, and the team reflect on what they have achieved. Following flooding in November 2018, the team are hopeful about the sustainability and success of the project.


Sustainable drainage systems project may address surface water management issues for refugees worldwide

25 Mar 2019

Article on Coventry University website


Participatory SuDS design in action at Gawilan camp

26 Apr 2018

A large part in the success of any activity is collective action.


‘What goes in, must come out’ – flooding & sampling

20 Apr 2018

Sustainable drainage is concerned with ensuring water quality and quantity, whilst the site amenity and biodiversity are all harmoniously in balance and positively contributed to.


Who’s taking ownership of surface water anyway?

17 Apr 2018

What are the institutional barriers to the design and implementation of sustainable drainage?


UNHCR Camps, Erbil – improved drainage or concrete jungles?

18 Oct 2017

A visit to three camps with differing wastewater management practices in place and two interviews with UN agency specialists and a camp resident.


Report: Combining sustainable drainage (SuDS) with WASH

01 May 2017

This report gathers the strands of information gleaned from a regional site visit to existing camps in the Dohuk locality made between 13th and 18th April 2017.


The visit to the field continues

16 Apr 2017

The team visit a number of refugee camps.


Arriving in Erbil

13 Apr 2017

The team from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University make their first site visit. Here's an account of the first few days.


Read the Humanitarian WASH Innovation Catalogue

Learn more about this WASH project, and many others, in our Humanitarian WASH Innovation Catalogue.

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