New tool ensures sustainable water supply for refugee camps

A team of DTU researchers has just completed a review of 16 different water supply systems for refugee camps. The team has assessed and compared the sustainability of the different systems in relation to both the environment and finances.

The construction of new refugee camps is an important issue for NGOs and governments all over the world. DTU’s study is based on the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, which is home to 250,000 refugees from South Sudan.

Here, different water supply systems—ranging from water trucks to manual and mechanized pumps powered by solar energy and diesel—were set up to form the basis for the comparison.

“Water supply for refugee camps usually starts with large trucks transporting water tanks into the camp. However, our analysis shows that even though it requires pipe systems, it is far more sustainable to install more permanent water supply systems during the very establishment of the camp. Thus, a mechanized water pump system has paid for itself within a year, compared to water trucks,” says the young researcher behind the study, Susanna Andreasi Bassi, DTU Environment.

Whether the motor for the water pump system should be powered by solar energy, diesel, or a hybrid of the two depends on the local conditions and the context. The analysis also included the many other factors to be considered in connection with refugee camp water supply, e.g. accessibility to and amount of water in the area, distance to the water source, water quality, etc.

A solid basis for decision-making

The Danish Refugee Council is not exactly surprised by the conclusion of the study. It is, however, extremely important for the organization that the results are now documented.

“The analysis provides us with a solid data base with calculations of the life-cycle cost of various solutions for water supply in refugee camps. It is important that we can substantiate our argument for more sustainable solutions when we meet with the parties funding the water supply. The ambition is to combine human dignity with financial and environmental sustainability,” says Anders Bech Tharsgaard, Head of Business Engagement in the Danish Refugee Council.

DTU Environment has extensive knowledge and experience working systematically with solutions for water supply and quantifying their sustainability in relation to both the environment and finances. It is this knowledge that is now, for the first time, being used to compare the possibilities for water supply in refugee camps, and which has now given birth to a small tool that can calculate sustainability on the basis of the local conditions of future camps.

The tool will be available free of charge

“We are happy to be able to use our expertise and contribute to taking responsibility for global water development. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is to provide clean water for everyone, including refugee camps. We hope that our tool will be useful, and that we can contribute to solving other similar tasks in the future,” says Associate Professor Martin Rygaard, DTU Environment, who had the overall academic responsibility for the analysis.

The new tool will be available free of charge for the NGOs and governments of the world. The tool has already received quite a bit of interest, and the Danish Refugee Council also expects to be able to use it in other hotspots around the world in the future.

“One of our main goals is to contribute to reducing the costs of establishing and operating refugee camps. In order to do this, we need to understand the challenges and, not least, to be able to contribute to solving them. In this respect, the collaboration with DTU is a good example”, says Anders Bech Tharsgaard.

(Anne Kirsten Frederiksen)