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Improving access to safe and clean water in Bidibidi using solarized water treatment plants.

In the heart of Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, a remarkable transformation is underway as safe and clean water becomes more accessible, thanks to a groundbreaking initiative led by the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) in partnership with the Australian Red Cross and the Australian development agency.

This life-changing project aims to improve water access, sanitation facilities, and inclusivity for the settlement’s residents, including the most vulnerable members of the community.

Some of the refugee children in village 1, zone 4, Bidibidi refugee settlement fetching water from one of the tap stands.

Among those whose lives are about to change is Angelina Jokudu, a resilient mother of four, living in Village 3, Block B, Zone 4 of Bidibidi. For years, she, like many others in the settlement, faced daily challenges fetching water from the nearby Napita stream. Besides the constant risk of waterborne diseases, the stream’s location in a bush also exposed them to dangerous reptiles, including snakes.

Fortunately, the funding from the Australian development agency has set in motion a project that promises to rewrite this narrative. The URCS has undertaken the solarization of three water supply systems in Bidibidi, replacing the previous diesel-fueled generators. The water systems are strategically located with one serving each village. Village 3 has four tap stands, Village 2 has eight, and Village 1 boasts twelve tap stands.

The solarization process involved the installation of twenty solar panels at each water plant, producing an impressive 5.6 kilowatts of power used to run the water pumps. The hybrid nature of these systems ensures continued access to clean water even during times when solar power may be insufficient, ensuring the uninterrupted supply of water to the residents.

The impact of this initiative reaches beyond clean water access; it’s about building sustainable communities. Each water source has a dedicated water user committee, comprising six carefully selected members, including representation for people with special needs.

WASH project officer, George Baliraine, emphasizing to the water user committees their responsibility in ensuring the smooth running and maintenance of the tap stands during one of the 3-day trainings in village 3, zone 4, Bidibidi refugee settlement.

These committees received comprehensive training, lasting three days, covering various aspects such as water contamination prevention, maintenance of the water sources, contribution to a monthly water fund, and ensuring that even individuals with disabilities can freely access and enjoy these water points.

George Baliraine, a dedicated WASH project officer with the Uganda Red Cross Society, emphasized the importance of community involvement for the sustainability of the project. He stated, “By empowering the water user committees, we are fostering a sense of shared responsibility, ensuring the water supply continues to benefit the communities long after the intervention by the Uganda Red Cross.”

URCS’s intervention came in response to the urgent cries for assistance from Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, the largest refugee settlement in the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Water Mission Uganda collaborated as implementing partners for UNHCR, acknowledging the pressing need to provide sufficient water per capita to the refugees. However, funding gaps and challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic had hindered their efforts to improve the existing water sources, which were all diesel-run.

Anthony Adima, another passionate WASH project officer with URCS, shed light on the project’s decision to transition to solar power. “The viable option was to improve the existing systems,” he explained. “By solarizing three water systems, we not only ensure continued access to clean water but also pave the way for a more sustainable and inclusive future for the settlement.”

The impact of this project transcends beyond access to safe and clean water. It means improved sanitation facilities, reduced discrimination, and stigmatization of people living with disabilities, fostering a stronger sense of community and empowerment among the residents of Bidibidi Refugee Settlement.

As the solar-powered water treatment plants begin to make a tangible difference in the lives of Bidibidi’s residents, the partnership between URCS, the Australian Red Cross, and the Australian development agency serves as a shining example of how collaboration and innovation can bring about positive change in even the most challenging circumstances. The story of Angelina Jokudu and her fellow residents of Bidibidi will now be defined not by struggles for water, but by hope, resilience, and a brighter future for all.

An aerial shot of one of the solarized boreholes