Sun WASH - Ethiopia

A sustainable and globally scalable model using solar energy to supply clean drinking water in the world's many refugees hosting communities
Good Practices

Sun WASH - Ethiopia

A sustainable and globally scalable model using solar energy to supply clean drinking water in the world's many refugees hosting communities

"Before this project started to provide clean water, the availability of water was very limited. We would go a long distance to fetch water for drinking, cooking, washing, and cleaning. The generator was interrupted for a long time due to a shortage of fuel. That time, when the children came back from school, they were crossing the forest to find water which was not clean. Water is life. Without food we can survive for a few days, but without water it is difficult to live for more than a day in this sunny area. Now we are very happy about the presence of water here in our village. We don’t need to walk far because water is available to the community in our village. We can drink, wash our clothes, clean, and cook without any problem."

- Rebeca Nyayien, 48, Pinyudo Refugee Camp, Gambella, Ethiopia

The project in brief

The project is/was implemented by Plan International in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. It began in October 2020 and is currently ongoing.

SunWASH provides innovative, and climate-resilient safe WASH services for South Sudanese refugees and Ethiopian host communities. The project focuses on creating a sustainable and globally scalable model for how solar energy efficiently can supply clean drinking water in the world's many refugee camps and their hosting communities.

By establishing solar powered automated water systems that are connected through pipelines and lead clean water to schools and ECCE centers, the intervention is expected to support more than 200,000 people by the end of 2026.

Through combining the delivery of solarised water supply systems with capacity development of local stakeholders to sustain these systems, the intervention takes a holistic participatory approach to the WASH cycle. As such, SunWASH operates within the humanitarian-development nexus, linking immediate needs of WASH with long-term technical water solutions. Such a combination of immediate relief with structural changes also requires a strong gender transformative approach, whereby the project addresses gender norms to promote and support gender equality.

The goal is to offer sufficient climate friendly solar driven sustainable drinking water solutions to foster cohesion between refugee and host communities.

Main activities of the Good Practice

SunWASH good practice is structured around a triple nexus approach – where the activities together constitute a holistic intervention, building social cohesion across development and humanitarian context through safe and equal access to water.

The project has been acknowledged by UNHCR & Ethiopia Refugee and Returnees Services (RSS) as state of the art due to its success in setting new standards for how to ensure access to clean water.

SunWASH nexus components and main activities includes:

  • Essential WASH kits distributed to support arrival of new refugees
  • Hygiene messages and Information Education Communication (IEC) materials, developed in collaboration with communities, to mitigate spread of COVID 19 and improve safe WASH
  • Installation and retrofitting of solar driven water supply systems
  • Installation of remote-controlled systems to monitor use of water and groundwater levels
  • Strengthening capacities of local authorities, local staff and organisation, local communities to collectively maintain the solar driven water systems
  • Experts at both regional and district levels as well as representatives from Federal Ministry trained on advanced Operation and Maintenance techniques.
A person washing their hands under running water - only the hands and water are visible

Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice

SunWASH builds on several years of experience in establishing solar powered water solutions by Plan Denmark, the Grundfos Foundation and Water Mission, an NGO based in the United States. The partnership in Ethiopia showcases how to optimize synergies of impacts by merging technical expertise, financial support, and local/global know-how.

The diverse organisational strengths and strong collaboration are a key element to the success of the good practice – and can be summed up as follows:

  • Plan International’s unique expertise of operating across humanitarian and development sectors combined with Plan Ethiopia's established presence on the ground is instrumental in providing access to communities in need.
  • Combined with Water Missions specialized knowledge in designing and implementing water solutions which ensures the delivery of high-quality, sustainable water infrastructure.
  • And matched with Grundfos Foundation financial and technical support which ensures the efficiency and reliability of the water supply system.

The collaboration with UNHCR and Refugee and Refugee Return Services (RRS) in Gambella region enhance the overall ownership, contextualisation, and sustainability of SunWASH and facilitates coordination, access to resources, and ensures needs of displaced populations are effectively met.

Partners involved

Two women holding water containers on their heads, looking at the cameras

What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?


  • Rising costs due to inflation
  • Insecurity due to local tensions in Gambella and the crises in Tigray
  • COVID related restrictions and challenges

How they were overcome

  • Cost based extensions to deal with delays and rising costs
  • Strengthening of communication lines amongst partners to deal with challenges related to regional insecurity and COVID restrictions
  • Adaptive Programming to deal with constant external challenges

Results of the Good Practice

  • Access to safe water - Currently, over 39590 refugees has accessed safe water through solar driven water systems
  • Enabling sustainability of water supply systems - 14 staff, 78 community members and 6 government officials trained in the operation and maintenance of solar water supply systems.

In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

The implementation of solar-driven water supply systems in refugee camps and host communities is a transformative solution that eases pressure on host countries. These systems provide a sustainable and reliable source of clean water, reduce financial burdens on host nations, improve health outcomes and promote environmental sustainability. They empower refugees, improve living conditions, and foster community building, bridging the gap between displaced individuals and their host communities, as well as between immediate and long-term needs for a sustainable water source.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

The capacity development activities enhance the self-reliance of refugees by involving them in the maintenance of essential services. Capacity building for local authorities and communities encourages collaboration and shared responsibility for resource management, promoting self-sufficiency. Overall, these initiatives transform refugees from passive beneficiaries into active contributors, promoting dignity and independence.

Next steps

Due to successful project implementation and uptake, SunWASH has been showcased to several private and institutional donors, and there is a high possibility of extending the project and scaling up the best practices.

It is expected that the Grundfos Foundation as well as other donors will further invest in solar powered water systems, both in Ethiopia and in other relevant contexts, that calls for innovative long-term solutions to increase access to clean drinking water, such as SunWASH.

Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?

  • Administrative support from the Ethiopian Authorities and Ministries and UNHCR authorities to help scale up the project activities
  • Flexible donations, that facilitates adaptive programming and to scale up similar projects in other refugee and host communities

Submitted by

Camilla Woeldike, Policy Advisor, Plan International Denmark - [email protected]; Iben Rasmine Østergaard Marcussen, Team Lead of ECD-WASH, Plan International Denmark - [email protected]