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CLOSE THIS BOOKWater Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)
2. Assessment and organization
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Water Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)

2. Assessment and organization

· An immediate, competent assessment of local water supply possibilities, involving government authorities and using the best possible technology is essential.

· Although highly qualified expertise is usually required, local knowledge is most important.

· Involve the refugees, use their special skills and train them to operate and maintain the system.

· As a rule, technology and equipment for water provision should be simple, reliable, appropriate and familiar to the country.


1. An immediate on-the-spot assessment of local sources of water in relation to needs is essential. The government's central and local authorities should be involved as much as possible in this assessment. An influx of refugees may over strain water resources used by the local population. Knowledge of the local terrain and conditions is indispensable and expertise from outside the country should be brought in only when clearly necessary.

2. Once located, all available sources must be protected from pollution as a matter of the highest priority. Rationing of scarce water may, be needed initially in order to ensure survival of the weak and equity in distribution to the rest of the refugee population. The design and construction of a water supply system should follow an approach that will ensure a cost-effective and efficient service for the long term as well as minimal, but technologically appropriate operation and maintenance requirements. In this respect, coordination with physical planning, health and environmental sanitation sectors is most important.


3. While estimating the need for water does not require special expertise, assessment of supply possibilities does. A distinction may be useful between the identification of sources on the one hand, and their development and exploitation on the other. Depending on the situation and camp location, sources of water and their characteristics should be identified after consulting local technicians, neighbour community representatives and the refugees themselves. However, the assessment of water resources and of the possibilities to utilize them (the basis for decisions on the type and standards of service of the future system) require expertise in water engineering, sanitation and, in some cases, logistics. Although water diviners and other expertise or know-how usually available at the local level may often prove useful in assisting in the location of water resources, the most important objective of an assessment of water resources for human consumption is to ascertain the availability of water (in terms of quantity and quality) to satisfy the demand. This may only be addressed by qualified technicians, capable of interpreting regional information on water availability as obtained from specialized government departments, private consultancy firms, regional resources surveys and specialized cartography.

4. Seasonal factors must be carefully considered. Supplies that are adequate in the rainy season may dry up at other times (See 6.20).

5. Other local factors, which may only be assessed at the site itself, also determine the quantity of water available or its quality at a given place. This assessment, preferably carried out by experienced technicians, will benefit from detailed cartographic information on the site and its surroundings. Other specialized equipment may be helpful, depending on the circumstances, for groundwater prospection (See 6.26), for resource evaluation (flow measurements, physico-chemical or bacteriological analyses, long-term "safe yield" from springs or boreholes, See 6.38; 6.55) or for the conceptual design (See 12.2) and the analysis of alternatives (topographical surveys, borehole pumping tests).

6. The assessment of water resources will benefit from basic information gathered from the onset of an emergency operation. Annex A gives an example of the type of technical information that may prove useful during the resource assessment, design, operation and maintenance stages of water supply service activities. This information is the basis for a technical data bank on water resources. Efforts should therefore be made to obtain, file and periodically update this information (See 11.18).

Personnel and materials

7. Local sources of information and expertise are best and may include: central and local government departments (e.g. interior, public works, health, agriculture, water resources), the UN system, especially UNICEF, bilateral aid programmes, non-governmental organizations and engineering consultants and contractors. If it becomes clear that locally available expertise will not suffice, Headquarters' assistance should be requested without delay. Outside assistance, if necessary, should be provided whenever possible in support of local experts.

8. All water supply and distribution systems established for the use of refugee communities should be conceived taking into account that their operation and maintenance requirements differ from those of a normal (local) village or town, as the economic and social bases of refugee groupings differ from those of the host communities. This will require making special arrangements with local authorities and other implementing partners. It will also require that the technology used in the system and its long term needs (fuel, spare parts and other materials for maintenance as well as the expertise to deal with them) are locally available and within reach of the refugees (See 5.2; 11.2; 11.7).

9. The running and maintenance of refugee water supply systems by refugees themselves, with the support of local experts and specialized government agencies, must be assured before the departure of any outside expertise (See 11.11). It is for this reason that the system must be developed with the refugees and operated by them from the start, to the extent possible. The refugees may themselves have relevant skills and know-how (digging and maintenance of large diameter wells, familiarity with hand or simple motorized pumps, skills in plumbing or masonry). Refugees without prior experience should be trained as necessary (See 11.6). Basic public health education will always prove of importance in ensuring the best use of the supplied water, in avoiding contamination and in ensuring effective communal actions for the successful operation and maintenance of the systems.

10. Whenever specialized expertise or equipment is required for the exploration of water sources in complicated hydrogeological environments or for other technically complicated activities, such as the purification of surface water, extreme care should be taken to ensure that materials and equipment to establish a water supply and distribution system are found locally, to the maximum extent possible. As a general rule, technology should be kept simple. It should be appropriate to the country and draw on local experience (see 12.3). Efforts should be made to standardize, as far as possible, all special equipment (including plumbing, mechanical and disinfection equipment). In this respect, its availability in local markets, as well as that of the necessary fuel and spare parts and the local familiarity with them and with their operation and maintenance should be priority considerations (See 9.11.15).

11. Both, organizational and technical aspects of the complete water supply system need to be carefully monitored. The results of this effort should be appropriately recorded in the water supply data bank (See 2.6; 11.8). The use of the system must be controlled, water wastage or contamination should be avoided and preventive maintenance should be assured to avoid, as much as possible, unexpected technical breakdowns. Any breakdowns occurring should be quickly repaired (See 11.9).