Water Resources for Ugandan Refugee Populations

Field visit in Uganda for Faculty members Kory Smith, Chris Lowry, and Jim Jensen.

By Ryan Frederiks

Published October 30, 2017 This content is archived.

Currently around 8 million people in Uganda, 20% of the population, do not have access to safe water.

The South Sudan civil war has led to an influx of approximately one million refugees to Uganda, one of the poorest countries in the world. Unlike most nations, Uganda welcomes refugees with the right to land, freedom to travel, ability to work, and access to food, water, and shelter. Unfortunately, limited water sources in Northern Uganda, where most refugees settle, are generally not safe for consumption. Currently around 8 million people in Uganda, 20% of the population, do not have access to safe water. Without access, subsistence farmers struggle to feed their families and earn a living, and children under the age of five die from diarrheal disease caused by poor water and sanitation.

Because settlement areas lack safe water resources, aid organizations providing relief for refugees, including our partner, the Danish Refugee Council, spend a significant amount of money to truck water into settlements. One way to access safe, affordable water is by drilling deep wells.

I travelled to Uganda in March 2017 with support from the Community for Global Health Equity to begin data collection that would help our team to predict the best locations to drill wells. In partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Water and the Environment, I gathered and analyzed well log data (information on the geologic layers encountered when wells are drilled) to determine if the weathered zones, i.e., dissolved rock, or fractured zones, i.e. physically cracked rock from earthquakes, are the better targets for well drilling.

This analysis aims to reveal any correlation between depth of weathered and fractured zones and water yield, ultimately contributing to improved drilling practices.

I am working to interpolate the thickness of the aquifer and create a numerical model to better understand the direction of groundwater movement and its quantity in the region. Understanding groundwater movement and quantity is important because, once one knows how easily water can flow through the aquifer, one can predict water contamination, determine sustainable pumping rates and plan for future changes in population and climate.

In April 2017, Bidi Bidi, Uganda surpassed Dadaab, Kenya, in becoming the largest single settlement to host refugees in the world. This work, therefore, could impact millions of lives in Uganda.

At a time when international funding for humanitarian conflicts is at a low, freeing up funds for long-term, sustainable wells will lift the economic burden of providing water for the population and will reduce costs associated with future disease.