Upgrading Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Refugee Camps and Host Communities in Gambella 

Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH)

Upgrading Water Supply and Sanitation Services in Refugee Camps and Host Communities in Gambella 

The project in brief

Implemented by

Tackling the root causes of displacement, Partnership for Prospects, BMZ




2014 – 2021 


The project supports a multiphase programme to improve sustainable water supply and sanitation for South Sudanese refugees and host communities in the Ethiopian region of Gambella. The programme is implemented through UNICEF in close cooperation with the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and UNHCR. In line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and its objective of integrating refugees into national service provision, a core measure of the programme is the installation and strengthening of a local water utility to ensure sustainable and long-term access to the required services. The newly constructed water supply system benefits over 250,000 people. The programme region is one of the least developed regions in Ethiopia.   

Project aims 

To prevent water-related diseases and risks of outbreaks for refugees and the host community through the timely and effective provision of sustainable water supply, sanitation and hygiene services. 

Resources used 

The Special Initiative on Forced Displacement of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) supports the programme with 21.5 million EUR, the counterpart funding of UNICEF adds another 1.57 million EUR. 

Main activities of the Good Practice

  • Improved access to water in refugee camps as well as nearby communities in the Gambella region. To achieve this, the water utility system is being expanded and water storage capacity increased. 
  • Local Water Utility of Itang is set up and supported, e.g. through financial, technical, commercial, human resources and management training. The construction of an office facility is included as well.  
  • Two health centers, two schools and a refugee registration center are provided with an autonomous water supply system. 
  • Development of a master plan to improve the sanitation in refugee camps, construction of latrines, establishment of a waste disposal system and hygiene education. 


  • KfW Development Bank 
  • Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) 

Challenges and how they were overcome

Scarce water resources increase the tensions between host communities and refugees.

In addition, services for refugees in camps are fully subsidized by UNHCR while host communities are paying for services according to national policies with notable disparities in service levels between the two populations. Local resource conflicts are reduced by improving long-term and cheaper access to central water resources.  The challenge of implementation in a context of conflict and tensions is addressed by adhering to a strong do-no-harm approach throughout implementation. 

Setting up a new utility in marginalized areas with little professional staff is a challenge. The programme addresses this with a long-term commitment to capacity building for the operation and maintenance of the system and management of the utility. 

Results of the Good Practice 

Direct results:  

  • Access: Increased access to water supply systems for around 250.000 people (refugees and host community). 
  • Sustainability: Long-term and sustainable provision of water by the newly founded water utility of Itang. 
  • Efficiency: Cost per produced m³ of drinking water could be reduced from > 9 USD (water trucking) to 1.6 USD (O&M by int. NGO) to 0.7 USD (Local Utility). UNHCR, financing the provision of the refugees with water, is saving around 350.000 USD per month compared to trucking. 
  • Service delivery: Consumption of drinking water has increased from 10 to 15 l / day / capita. 
  • Jobs: Around 60 people found a permanent job in the newly set up water utility.  
  • Overarching results:  
  • Global Compact on Refugees: The pressure on the host country/community is eased by improving services for both refugees and host community. 
  • Replication: Currently a study is being procured to assess the potential for over 150 sites in seven countries in Eastern Africa to replicate the model of the described good practice. 


Submitted by: 

Dr. Silvia Morgenroth, Head of Division 221, Tackling the root causes of displacement, Partnership for Prospects, BMZ