In March 2018, Sandra Cats of DSS water contacted VEI to support the water supply situation in refugee camp Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. In this camp – the largest refugee camp in the world – approximately 700,000 Rohinya’s that fled away from Myanmar reside. The camp is situated on hilly area of 8 by 6 kilometers. Formerly, this was a forested nature reserve. It has been deforested and is subsequently vulnerable to erosion, especially during the rainy season. It has already led to landslides and the tragic death of refugees. DSS water expert Maarten Fleuren shares his experiences in this blog.

‘Through VEI, I set out to Cox’s to assess the situation and to find out what we could do to help enhance the water supply situation. Of course, Cox’s is a totally different world compared to The Netherlands; a world of chaos, fuss, heat, humidity and pollution. Fortunately, it does not apply to the working climate. The working climate is very organized. There are a lot of aid organizations present, such as UNHCR, Doctors without Borders, the Red Crescent/Red Cross, Oxfam, IOM etc. The partners have divided the camp into 3 parts. It struck me that the different relief organizations are working together amazingly and effectively well. I met many committed people giving support in work fields such as water supply, sanitation, health, education etc. And even though the Rohinya refugees have little of their possessions left, there is no famine in Cox Bazaar. Every day, food is provided for 700.000 people.

Throughout the area, there are about 5,000 shallow hand pumps. Several hundreds of them are out of order due to lack of maintenance, lack of spare parts or due to flooding damage. An even bigger problem is the microbiological safety of these shallow wells; in the surrounding of the shallow-wells, there are many latrines. Unfortunately, the water quality of many of these shallow wells are affected by these latrines. The NGO Oxfam initiated a new approach to provide safe water. The idea is to take a decentralized approach by dividing the camp in approximately 100 (alleviated) patches. Per patch, a deep well (approximately 160m deep) will be placed and equipped with a 20m3/h pump. The water is stored in a 95 m3 reservoir and chlorinated. Through a small distribution system, the water is subsequently distributed to tap stands. Due to the deep well and the central chlorination, this system will provide safe water which is a huge health gain. The energy for the pump will be provided by solar panels.

An alternative for one hundred small systems is one central water supply system. My first assignment was to compare both solutions. After thorough comparison, I concluded that it was nearly impossible to build a central system. For instance, the landscape is too hilly for a central pipeline and a lot of the landing will be flooded during the monsoon. In addition, you would have to remove a lot of people to make room for the pipeline.

My second assignment was to help convince the other partners to choose for one hundred smaller systems, and to convince them to choose for the same system, as uniformity in the construction saves money in planning, operation and maintenance. This turned out to be surprisingly easy. All partners agreed on the system as suggested by Oxfam.

The remaining part of VEI’s assignment is to put the data of all 100 systems in (Q)GIS; such as pipe length and material, location of deepwell, valves, tanks and tap stands etc. This requires a GIS-specialist. Design drawings and bills of quantity for the different system components will be prepared, and operational management and maintenance plans will be written.

As a Westerner, I still find it hard to comprehend that this crisis is not caused by some natural disaster but is inflicted by human behavior. After this experience, I realize once again how lucky I am to live in a small organized country called Holland.’