Oxfam finds new solutions for sustainable water supply in Gereida

Getting clean water to 40,000 people every day is not an easy job - particularly if these people are living inside a camp for displaced people in Gereida, a small town in South Darfur, one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the world.

Oxfam's water and sanitation specialists and public health advisers need to consider a lot of different factors to make the water supply systems work: there's laying the pipes, building the water tanks, testing water quality - and last but not least, keeping the cost of it all as low as possible.

Being accountable

At Oxfam, our donors pay the bills for us and this means our staff always work extremely hard to be transparent and accountable about how they are spending the money that we receive.

And while we are always willing to invest substantial amounts into an emergency response if this helps us save lives, our experts in the field also put a lot of thought and work into making the daily management of the water systems sustainable and cost-effective.

Getting the water flowing

"In Gereida, Oxfam pumps 270m³ liters of water to the displaced families every single day," explains public health engineer Sylvester Ingosi.

"In the beginning our main concern in Gereida camp was to get the water flowing on an emergency line ”“ but now we are also looking at how to improve the system to meet or exceed humanitarian guidelines like the SPHERE standards, and how to make our running costs even lower."

"At the moment, we are using 12 drums of diesel fuel each month to power the water pump, which extracts fresh water from 140m below the surface of the earth. This pump feeds the water into a storage system about two kilometers away from the source and from here we need to use other pumps to power the flow into our distribution system and our 24 tapstands inside the camp. We've laid more than four kilometers of pipes inside the camp to set all of this up.

Not only does the diesel for redistributing the water cost a lot, but it's also not the most reliable way of keeping the system going - the people of the camp would have a hard time buying such a large amount of fuel and transporting it over here if the Oxfam team could not get to the site or suddenly had to evacuate for security reasons."

A more sustainable solution

Sylvester's more sustainable solution: use gravity to power the flow of water throughout the camp.

"If I build a platform that's about two to three meters high and place our water tank on top of that, the water could run from the storage system to the tapstands using nothing but the force of gravity. This would mean we only need to use the pump to get the water out of the ground so we save at least half of the fuel cost!

"This system would also remove the eight water bladders that currently store the water before it enters the tap stands so we save not just on equipment, but we also wouldn't need to hire guards to monitor these bladders anymore."

Helping more people

With a simpler, more low-tech system such as this, Sylvester hopes to hand over most of the management of the water supply to his team of local employees.

He also has a plan for how to spend the extra funds that this improvement might be freeing up, which has the support of the donors.

"Many of the people who live in the small villages surrounding the town and the camp have had their water sources destroyed during the Darfur conflict. Oxfam has already been asked to help rehabilitate them in places where it's safe to do so.

"With the money we could save with this new water supply system, we'd be able to reach more people in even more remote areas - and that way, we can continue to make a real difference to the lives of the people here."