Responding to population movement in Uganda

Canadian Red Cross aid worker Erwan Cheneval spent one month in Uganda in March, 2018, supporting the refugee response to the influx of Congolese refugees.

What was the purpose of your trip to Uganda?

I went as a Field Assessment and Coordination Team Leader (FACT), to support the Uganda Red Cross in developing its response plan to the sudden influx of Congolese refugees into Uganda, fleeing violence in their home country. By early April 2018, the number of Congolese entering Uganda had already reached nearly 70,000 people since the beginning of the year.

What needs did you see on the ground among the refugees?

A water station in UgandaSome of the refugees were directly affected by violence back in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while others had fled as a preventive measure. People were traumatized, tired and stressed. Most have traveled for several days to reach the border, crossing Lake Albert in unsafe conditions in overcrowded boats. The refugees lack water, food and access to basic hygiene. When they first arrive, they sleep in the open with their modest belongings, waiting for transport to the reception center, where they then have to stay for several days before completing the registration process. From there, refugees are allocated a small plot of land where the can setup a small shelter made of wooden sticks and plastic sheeting. Access to communal latrines is very limited, and in many places completely absent. Access to water is scarce; in general, each person is allocated less than five litres per day. In contrast, the average Canadian’s water consumption is 466 litres per day.

Due to the poor sanitation and lack of clean water, disease outbreak is a constant fear, and at the end of February a Cholera outbreak was declared in two settlements and some nearby host communities. The outbreak claimed the lives of 38 people and had affected more than 1,800 by the end of March. Although there were signs that the outbreak is being brought under control, the situation remains alarming, with sanitation and hygiene progresses struggling to meet the needs of still more refugees coming.

How is the Uganda Red Cross supporting the response?

The Uganda Red Cross has sent many volunteers and staff, with skills in sanitation, safe water and hygiene promotion, to support the response. The volunteers are well trained and dedicated, and many have been relocated from their home to the settlement or the receptions points to support the response.. The Uganda Red Cross has also set up two water treatment units capable of producing safe water for 5,000 people per day; one unit is inside the main settlement, and the other has been sent to a reception point along Lake Albert.

The effort is supported by an International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society (IFRC) appeal, to bring relief to 18,000 people with access to safe water, sanitation, hygiene promotion, health surveillance and protection activities targeting mostly women and children.

Settlement for refugees in Uganda
What is the Canadian Red Cross doing to support the Ugandan Red Cross?

The Canadian Red Cross has sent one aid worker to help develop a response strategy to handle the influx of refugees, and provided funds for the response in February, originally targeting 6,000 people.

Are there any stories or memories that stand out from your trip?

The dedication of the Uganda Red Cross volunteers is remarkable. Many have relocated to the settlements, staying in tents in basic conditions week after week to be able to deliver essential services to refugees. One aspect that has been particularly moving is that some of the refugees are also volunteers of the Congolese Red Cross back home. Recognizing their colleagues from Uganda, they have joined forces, and some Congolese volunteers are now supporting the response along with the Uganda Red Cross. This has created a strong relationship and fostered trust between the refugee community and the Red Cross, and the volunteers have become a key partner in addressing the many issues affecting the refugee community.

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