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CLOSE THIS BOOKWater Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)
5. Refugee water supply systems
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Water Manual for Refugee Situations (UNHCR, 1992, 160 p.)

5. Refugee water supply systems

· A water supply system is a combination of structures (intakes, pumping sets, treatment and storage facilities, distribution pipeline networks, service points, drainage outlets) necessary for the production (collection, treatment, storage) and distribution of potable water to a group of people. Refugee water supply systems are usually necessary to cover the water needs of people living in camps or in village-like rural environments throughout the world.

· To provide adequate service, the system has to be constructed in such a way that all its components are appropriate, compatible with each other and in accordance with the production capacity of the water sources and the water demand at the camp at any given time. The requirements for the operation and maintenance of this system will have to be such that they will always be easily met with locally available resources and at the lowest possible cost.

· To ensure an adequate service, the system will have to be planned, designed, constructed and put into operation in a short period of time (involving the refugee population as much as possible). The complexity of the task requires professional expertise which should be sought at the beginning of the project. Considerable attention to long term operation and maintenance requirements will also be required from the early days of a refugee water supply construction project.

· The design of each of the components of a water supply system may also be a complex undertaking. It should solve the needs of the project in a cost-effective way. Its cost should be as low as reasonably possible, but it should also be easy to operate and maintain, and be capable of providing efficient service throughout the life-span of the system.


1. As soon as the need to have an appropriate water supply system to meet the emergency needs of a refugee group is recognized, a clear idea of the paths to be followed to make the project a reality in the shortest time should be obtained. Some of these tasks and their required activities are difficult. They are frequently made more difficult by the lack of basic data or the impossibility of obtaining other planning or design tools (cartography, hydrological data, etc.) needed for calculation or design purposes. Among these tasks, the following may be mentioned:

i) Search for adequate water sources.

ii) Preliminary surveys. Assessment of water productivity and quality. Assessment of topographic advantages (gravity) and disadvantages (pumping requirements) (See 6.1; 7.1). Collection of additional/relevant information on the refugee community (See 6.36-iii; 11.2), on other beneficiaries (if any) and on socio-economic characteristics of the local (host) community.

iii) Implementation arrangements. Responsibilities for project implementation should be clearly allocated after a conscientious analysis of the possibilities and constraints of all parties interested in the project. Issues that should be clarified at this stage include funding, contractual procedures to be adopted (possibly a need for a Contracts Committee and therefore tendering and bidding), project supervision and monitoring mechanisms, financial reporting (See 12.5).

iv) Production of a conceptual design. Alternative solutions should be presented for consideration. The choice should be made based on implementation time requirements, technology considerations and cost-effectiveness.

v) Detailed surveys. To refine all aspects and details of the adopted conceptual design. These include further water analyses, the exploration for building material (e.g. gravel, sand iron bars, wood), further measurements of water production at sources, detailed topographical surveys of water sources, storage tanks and distribution points. Production of final designs (See 12.8-11).

vi) Organization of refugee involvement on the project. This activity will require the organization of refugee committees and the identification of relevant skills and expertise within the community (See 6.36; 11.11).

vii) Implementation of the project. Besides the actual construction works, other inputs are required, such as the technical supervision of works to ensure that construction is carried out in accordance with approved plans and that payments for construction reflect the real value of the works accomplished (See 12.16).

viii) Organization of operation and maintenance, including the organization of a committee on which refugees and relevant assistance sectors are represented (health, sanitation, social services). Continuous engineering support should be ensured. A caretaker or a group of caretakers should be employed to carry out the operation and maintenance tasks in the best possible way. Financial matters and distribution of responsibilities for efficient operation and maintenance of the system and its components should be regulated in advance (See 11.3).

2. In view of the fact that refugee communities throughout the world are living in conditions which may not be considered as "normal", their socio-economic base is such that they will require outside assistance to operate and maintain their camp infrastructures (See 2.8). The search for solutions to the needs of refugees should be undertaken after having seriously considered the long-term needs of the camps and their inhabitants. Although it is difficult to predict for how long a refugee or a refugee group will continue to be so (before any durable solution may be offered by their country of origin, their host country or the International Community) it is easy to foresee the problems that an ill-conceived, badly planned or wrongly constructed water supply system may generate for the refugees and for those in charge of providing them with assistance. All efforts to avoid these long-term problems will prove, with time, very valuable.