A Simple Campaign to Ensure Safe Drinking Water for Somali Refugees

Thousands of Somali people are fleeing their country for survival and in hope of a better life for their children and themselves. They arrive with very little except for the clothes they are wearing, some extra pieces of fabric and, if they are lucky, jerry cans. These ‘jerry cans’ are simply old, plastic oil containers.

During their journeys, which for some take up to two months by foot, there are very few, if any remaining water sources on their path suitable for drinking due to the drought in East Africa. Jerry cans are the only way to carry this basic necessity with them.

By the time they reach the refugee camps, these water containers are often filled with green algae and offer a breeding place for many types of diseases.

In response, International Medical Corps ran a week-long “Jerry Can Hygiene Campaign” in Kobe Refugee Camp from August 1-5, to help families clean their water containers. Kobe is one of four camps set up to serve the 118,000 and counting refugees streaming to the Dolo Ado area of Ethiopia where we have been working in partnership with the Ethiopian Government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) to provide nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and gender-based violence services.

Through the use of sifted river sand – which can easily be found in the local area – and a simple chlorine solution, 1,700 jerry cans were cleaned during this campaign to ensure people do not continue to use containers that are unsafe for storing drinking water.  Many families were able to take part in the campaign and learn from volunteers from their own community who were trained by International Medical Corps on how to keep their drinking water safe.

International Medical Corps is also planning to distribute hygiene kits including basic necessities like soap and has started constructing latrines and washrooms to ensure safe sanitation in the camps.

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