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"We can prevent misery with simple interventions"

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Experts are helping to welcome refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia to safety. They do this through Dutch Surge Support (DSS). Several DSS experts explain how they are helping improve the situation of refugees in those countries. Water expert Soufiane el Khinifri says, “It is great that we can sometimes prevent damage and misery through simple interventions.”

Nearly 2 million people are fleeing the conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray. Aid organisations in the neighbouring country of Sudan are receiving some of these refugees. These organisations give them basic necessities. This includes housing, medicine, health care and food.

International aid organisations are calling for help. Among them are the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They are sending DSS water experts to disaster areas. Once there, the experts work together with these organisations. They offer them knowledge and advice on different themes.

The experts often combine their work for DSS with other activities. Alex Velzeboer, for example, is an assistant trainer of a professional skating team besides being an expert in the field of water and sanitation.

Water, sanitary facilities and hygiene

Not all refugees go to Sudan but seek a safe haven closer to home. In Tigray, DSS experts are working to ensure access to clean drinking water and sanitary facilities (WASH) for the refugees. This includes building toilets, amongst others. The people also need housing. That is why the aid organisations are building a new refugee camp with space for over 19,000 people in Mekele. “We need to plan this carefully. Dutch knowledge is extremely valuable. It will enable us to build good-quality sanitary facilities quickly and in the right place,” says WASH expert Alex Velzeboer.

Identifying flood risks

In Sudan, there is little to no rain for 8 months of the year. But from May through September, heavy rainstorms cause floodings. Ivar Lokhorst is an expert in water management. He explains that UNHCR and the NGOs in the country do not have much knowledge on how to prevent floodings. This is a problem because the rainy season will have a serious impact on the refugee camps. Mr Lokhorst says, “The Netherlands has that knowledge. I use software to help estimate where the risk of flooding is greatest.” With this information, you can move the people before anything happens. You can also dig drainage channels outside the refugee camp.

Water expert El Khinifri adds, “Using maps and flood models, we have already shown that the ‘road’ running through the refugee camp is not a road at all. It is a fast-flowing river. Right now, the river is dry because the rains have not yet arrived.” You must also put the toilets in the right place. If you do not choose the place carefully, you could have problems after a flood. The drinking water might become polluted and cause the outbreak of diseases.

Cooking safely

The refugees gather wood in the surrounding area to make fires for cooking. This is not only bad for the environment and human health. It also causes conflicts with the local population as people chop wood without permission, and there is already a shortage. Energy expert Kennedy Muzee is looking for a long-term alternative. Mr Muzee is working with administrators in the Gedaref region to make people less dependent on fossil fuels. “We are doing this by working with businesses near the refugee camp,” says Mr Muzee.

As an alternative to firewood, a local sugar factory will now supply ethanol. Mr Muzee has invited local producers of ethanol cookers to sell their products in a shop at the refugee camp. Another advantage: refugees can work in the factory or shop.

Mental health

Water and energy are not the only things that are important, improving the mental health of the refugees is also a point for attention. Many refugees have experienced trauma. It is important to provide care as soon as possible. Hilary Kosgei Kiptoo is an expert in this area. He explains how he defends the interests of these people. Most of them have traumas because of what they have been through along the way. Mrs Kosgei Kiptoo, “Thanks to my knowledge and experience, I can bring different parties together. This makes people more aware and well-informed about mental health and what we can do to improve it.”

Would you like to use your knowledge to help out in disaster areas?

Are you an expert? Would you like to help in water-related emergencies in other countries? DSS water is always looking for new experts. Learn more about DSS water and sign up to be one of our experts. Would you like to contribute to MHPSS? Read more  on the DSS MHPSS page.