Meet the Member: Peter Odama

Six months ago, Bidi Bidi was a small town in northern Uganda. Now, it is believed to be one of the largest refugee settlements in the world.

RedR Member Peter Odama, Executive Director of the World Action Fund (WAF), shares how the organisation is improving various areas of community life across Uganda, despite the shortage of resources. 

The search for sustainable solutions

The Bidi Bidi settlement, just 40km away from the South Sudan-Uganda border, is currently hosting more than 270,000 South Sudanese refugees who are fleeing violence and famine. Although Bidi Bidi was expected to hold 40,000 people, twice that number have arrived every month since the camp's inception. As a result, the camp suffers from severe resource scarcity. Nonetheless, organisations such as the World Action Fund (WAF) are committed to finding sustainable solutions to poverty and humanitarian emergencies for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Juba and refugees in Uganda.

The risks of unsafe water

"IDPs are drinking untreated water from the River Nile, and there is still scarcity of water in the Bidi Bidi settlement. Children are falling sick and people are not receiving regular medical care, and so both major and minor sicknesses are not treated," says Peter. "Furthermore, we have found that the limited quantity of water at Bidi Bidi settlements has left many refugee families spending sleepless nights at the few borehole points just to collect water. They collect water for drinking and cooking, and postpone washing and bathing. We observed trucks carrying water from far distances to be filled in the tanks, but the capacity of the tank is little; the tanks are not enough to supply the entire refugee communities."

Right: Water-trucking at Juba IDP Camp

The risks of unsafe water

Empowering communities

"On the other hand, there are a lot of fears from refugees in the settlement in the West Nile region. Some believe that the water may be poisoned and a few suspected individuals were arrested for allegedly trying to poison the water in the tanks. As a result, we are very careful when working with the refugees. The WAF has been distributing food in refugee settlements and host communities all over Uganda and are currently mobilising for friends and partners to support our initiative in certified seed distribution to combat food insecurity. More work is needed in empowering women in income-generating activities, for example 'Savings and Loan Scheme' in groups."

Left: Peter (standing) addresses communities as distribution starts.

Empowering communities

An urgent need for more resources

"Due to the increased number of new arrivals, the Bidi Bidi settlement is closed for registration. New entrants are currently being taken to the Imvepi and Lamwo refugee settlements. This has exerted pressure on resources, and there is an urgent need for Sun eco latrines, clean water and hygiene promotion. The constant fighting has blocked transportation of food by road to South Sudan unless by air cargo, however we were still able to distribute 100% of the food to Bidi Bidi and Imvepi settlements, and to host communities, a total of 17.5 tons. It was the first distribution of its kind and the communities were extremely pleased as most families had suffered from years of drought."

1.9 million people have fled South Sudan since fighting broke out in late 2013.

Half of them have sought refuge in Uganda.

Read more, from MSF

Looking to the longer-term

WAF are currently working in Bidi Bidi and Imvepi settlements in Uganda, and work alongside partners in the IDP camps in Juba, South Sudan. WAF are involved in short-term emergency relief, namely food distribution, and some small livelihood and health work. Given the current political climate in South Sudan, Peter feels that the refugees will remain in Uganda for the foreseeable future, emphasising the need for aid agencies to develop livelihood and income-generating projects.

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