What water and latrines mean in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp

Aaron Tate | July 20, 2015

CWS tanks get filled with water as part of emergency response in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp. Photo: Gilles Amadou Ouédraogo / LWF

CWS tanks get filled with water as part of emergency response in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp. Photo: Gilles Amadou Ouédraogo / LWF

The pump of the water truck rumbled, letting the camp know that the day’s water was coming. Two giant plastic water tanks installed by CWS and local partner Tanganyika Christian Refugee Service were being filled. The owners of the buckets that had been left in the queue since earlier today came to take their place in line. Patiently they waited, as each person came and filled their buckets and containers, placed them on heads and in hands, and walked back to their spot in the massive refugee camp.

Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, in Western Tanzania, continues to grow and currently over 80,000 Burundians have arrived, fleeing political violence. CWS is responding to this emergency by providing water and sanitation, with support from ACT Alliance.

CWS has been bringing water to people in crisis for decades, but it’s still fascinating to watch this ritual at the water tanks. Women and children fill up their buckets or jerry cans, carrying a day’s ration of water on their heads. Consider this: jerry cans were first used in WWII and were designed with two handles because two soldiers would carry them, sharing the load. Now, here I am watching Burundian refugee women carry jerry cans–40 pounds of water–on their heads, and with another 10-20 pounds in their hands. Talk about strength and determination.

Then there are those who don’t even have a jerry can or bucket. Some of them fill battered cooking pots brought from their home country. Their water for the entire day’s cooking, cleaning, and drinking is the same amount you use to boil a pot of spaghetti.

Through our emergency response, we’re distributing 10,000 jerry cans. And our eight water tanks provide a total of over 10,000 gallons a day. They are one part of a water supply network built by groups like us responding to this crisis.

Latrines under construction by CWS partner in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp Photo: TCRS

Latrines under construction by CWS partner in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp Photo: TCRS

We are also building hundreds of latrines, although that’s not as entertaining to discuss. Latrines are boring and smelly and by nature not photogenic. You’ve seen all those great photos of water work, with drops and splashes caught in mid-air in front of smiling faces. Ever seen a photo celebrating the humble latrine? Didn’t think so.

But the number of Burundians in camp has now reached 80,000, just think about that. Latrines are important. And soon after we dig the ditches and build the latrines, they get full, and we decommission the old ones and build more.

The presidential election in Burundi is coming soon, and it might cause more Burundians to flee to Tanzania, or it might make it safer for Burundians to go home. Meanwhile, the government of Tanzania might open a new refugee camp and move the 80,000 Burundians there.

Whatever happens, CWS will be here, providing water, latrines and doing even more in the coming months to respond to this emergency.

Aaron Tate is an Emergency Coordinator with CWS


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