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CLOSE THIS BOOKWater Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)
3. The need
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VIEW THE DOCUMENTWater demand/quantity

Water Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)

3. The need

· Water Demand: Optimum standards in most refugee emergencies call for a minimum per capita allocation of 15 litres per day plus communal needs and a spare capacity for new arrivals. When hydrogeological or logistic constraints are difficult to address, a per capita allocation of 7 litres per person per day should be regarded as the minimum "survival" allocation. This quantity will be raised to 15 litres per day as soon as possible.

· Quality: To preserve public health, a large amount of reasonably safe water is preferable to a smaller amount of very pure water.

· Control: The water must nevertheless be safe: test new sources (physico-chemically as well as bacteriologically) before use and periodically thereafter, and immediately following an outbreak of a disease which might be caused by unsafe water.

Water demand/quantity

1. The human body's basic water requirements depend on the climate, workload and other environmental factors. Minimum requirements vary between 3 and 10 litres per day. The amount of water needed for other purposes, including cooking or hygiene, is more variable and depends on cultural habits, several other socio-economic factors and on the type of the water supply (in terms of quality, quantity, availability and convenience). Additional water requirements for livestock, sanitation facilities, other community services and irrigation may be of special importance in some emergency refugee camps.

2. Reduction in the quantity of water available to individuals directly affects their health. As supplies are reduced, clothes cannot be washed, personal hygiene suffers, cooking utensils cannot be properly cleaned, food cannot be adequately prepared and, finally, the direct personal intake becomes insufficient to replace moisture lost from the body. The reduction is reflected in increased incidence of parasitical, fungal and other skin diseases, eye infections, diarrhoeal diseases and the often fatal dehydration associated with them. Even those individuals who may have traditionally lived on less than the normally recommended amount of water (e.g. nomads), will require more in a refugee community because of crowding and other environmental factors.

3. The needs of community services vary widely, for example from the requirements to swallow a pill or wash hands in an outpatients health post to the requirements of a health centre offering inpatient clinic facilities. Proper supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes will be impossible unless sufficient water is available for food preparation and basic hygiene.

4. The availability of water will be a factor in deciding on a sanitation system. While pit latrine systems do not need water to function, an "aquaprivy" will require some 5 litres per user; an "Oxfam Sanitation Unit" requires up to 3000 litres per day to serve 1000 persons. The design of showers, baths or ablution facilities should always consider water availability.

5. Water will also be needed for livestock in many refugee situations. Extreme care should be taken to avoid pollution or even depletion of scarce resources by animals. Separation of human water supply points from those used by animals is a must (See 9.11).

6. Water will probably be of little use in controlling fires on emergency refugee sites owing to a lack of sufficient quantities and pressure.

7. Annex B, which is given as a general guide, shows the approximate daily requirements in emergency refugee camps. This table should only be used as an indicative guideline on minimum requirements on which to base the planning of refugee camp facilities and to provide a monitoring tool for the appropriate-ness of service infrastructures at camp level.

8. All waterworks leak to some extent. Water wastage at refugee camps is normally large if not appropriately controlled. In most circumstances, these unaccounted for losses may be quite serious. It is impossible to reduce these losses except by inspection and constant attention to the functioning of all parts of the water system as well as to the water collection habits of the beneficiaries. Where main users are women, due to cultural practices or any other reason, female inspectors may be the best collaborators of maintenance teams (see 11.11). Leaky pipelines may allow pollution to be incorporated into the water, especially in those camps where water is supplied intermittently through these pipes.

9. Since in many emergency refugee situations, water demand may increase as a result of additional refugee arrivals, of the need to temporarily address additional needs such as the construction of camp infrastructure (e.g. concrete structures), or in view of other socio-economic or cultural factors which had not been recognized at the beginning, plans must allow for a substantial spare capacity over initially assessed needs. However, as already pointed out (See 2.2), the resulting system should always provide an efficient but also cost-effective service.


10. Among the most important goals of assistance programmes during refugee emergencies is the one to provide an ample supply of pure and wholesome water to the beneficiaries. This, in simple terms, means water free from:

i) visible suspended matter;
ii) colour;
iv) taste and odour;
v) bacteria indicative of pollution;
vi) objectionable dissolved matter;
vii) aggressive constituents.

Thus, the water must be fit for human consumption, i.e. potable, but it must also be palatable (aesthetically attractive).

11. The provision of potable water is the best way to control the so-called "water borne" diseases in an emergency refugee camp (mainly originated from the presence of micro-organisms in the water). However, these water borne diseases are not usually as serious or widespread as the "water washed" diseases, such as skin or eye infections or even diarrhoea, which result mainly from insufficient water for personal hygiene. Thus, a large quantity of reasonably safe water is preferable to a smaller amount of very pure water. The most serious threat to the safety of a water supply system is contamination by faeces: once the water has been contaminated, it is hard to purify quickly under emergency conditions (See 8.2-5).

12. Brackish or other types of highly mineralized water may sometimes be considered for emergency water supply. Before any decision is taken on its potability, a thorough knowledge of its chemical composition (and possible variations with time, in accordance with seasons or other factors) should be obtained. Additionally, other aspects, such as the concentration of objectionable elements in absolute and relative terms (as compared to the concentrations considered "normal" in the vicinity of the camp or in the places of origin of the refugees) and the expected duration of the emergency (or exposure time of individuals to these waters) should also be taken into account. However, it is worthwhile to point out that in situations when water is very scarce, brackish, or even salt water, if available, may have to be used for domestic hygiene, and appropriate supply or distribution systems may be required.

13. New water supplies should be tested before use, and existing ones checked periodically or immediately after an outbreak of any typically water-borne disease. Normally, water should be known from the physical, chemical and bacteriological points of view. The following list is given as an indication of the most important parameters (others may be required in specific circumstances) that should be known for the complete assessment of water quality:

i) Physical Characteristics
Colour; Odour; Taste; Turbidity; Temperature; pH; Conductivity; Suspended and Settleable Solids (surface waters, especially from rivers or creeks).

ii) Chemical Characteristics
Alkalinity; Acidity; Hardness; Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD); Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD); Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate Nitrogen; Total Dissolved Solids (TDS); and the ionic contents of Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Manganese, Iron, Chlorides, Sulphates, Carbonates, Bicarbonates, Fluorides.

iii) Bacteriological Characteristics
Bacteriological counts of Total and Faecal Coliforms.

The analyses of water samples to assess these parameters and the interpretation of their results should be made by specialists. However, a quick comparison with tables or guidelines will indicate, in general terms, the potability of the water or its main constraints as a source of human water supply. Annex 9-C is one of these tables, which has been prepared based on WHO'S Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (as published in 1984) and on UNHCR's experience.

14. Most waters have to be purified before they can be used for drinking purposes (See 1.3; 8.6). Raw water quality varies so much that there is no fixed starting point to a treatment process. Within narrower limits, there is no rigidly fixed finishing point, either. There is virtually no water that has to be considered as impossible to purify to potable standards. Some raw waters, however, are so bad as to merit rejection because of the risk, cost and expenses involved. If a good quality source is not available, "second class" sources would have to be upgraded by treatment to first-class standards, or better water may have to be brought in from more distant sources. It is generally a matter of economics, whereby the urgency of the emergency situation and the longer-term expectations within a given refugee camp have to be taken into account.

15. The quality of the raw water may be difficult to assess. Even if many samples have been analyzed and considered before the design of a treatment process, there is always a possibility that the worst conditions have not yet been discovered. Apart from already-mentioned seasonal variations, there is always the possibility of radical long-term changes to water quality due to the development or alteration of catchment areas. River water, for example, may change its chemical and biological character if it is impounded. Increased groundwater abstractions or the overexploitation of some aquifers may cause saline water intrusions, making the raw water more saline. Groundwater sources generally produce clear water, but in many cases it may be excessively hard, or contain iron, manganese or fluoride at levels higher than desirable.

16. Periodical control of water quality in a refugee water supply system is as important as the efforts to treat and purify it. It is the best tool to confirm the good functioning of the system as a whole and of its components. Control should be routinely carried out at watering points, although sporadic checks on the potability of water stored at individual households should be carried out to monitor the appropriateness of the water-use habits of the beneficiary population (See 8.24).