Stories
21 Mar 2022
By: Amber Christino

Today we celebrate a precious resource that no one on the planet can live without: water. 

On World Water Day, observed by the United Nations each year on March 22, we recognize the critical and multidimensional role that water plays for individuals, households, communities, governments and businesses globally. In the East and Horn of Africa region especially, water – or the lack thereof – can mean the difference between life and death.  

Between the devastating drought ongoing in countries like Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, and recurrent floods in South Sudan and Burundi, it is clear that water has the power to displace millions of people, significantly impacting migration throughout the region.  

Lack of access to water and drought can increase forced migration. In turn, migration flows can increase pressure on water resources. Water scarcity has already forced hundreds of thousands of families across the East and Horn of Africa to flee their homes in search of food, water and pasture for their animals. It has also increased conflict, for example over dwindling supplies of water needed to sustain livestock. 

It is imperative to safeguard water for the benefit of everyone, and to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: to ensure water and sanitation for all. Well-managed migration can play an important role in addressing water-related issues. 

To that end, in the East and Horn of Africa region, IOM aims to ensure universal and equitable access to safe and affordable water for those in need, complementing safe water provision with information about appropriate sanitation practices and the systematic promotion of good hygiene. IOM’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives have included the construction and rehabilitation of boreholes and wells, water trucking, surface water treatment systems, latrine construction, hygiene promotion campaigns, and distribution of hygiene kits, among others. IOM is also working closely with communities and governments in the region to protect water resources.

The following photos depict some of IOM’s WASH and water-related emergency response photos in the region: 

Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Amaury Falt-Brown

Natural hazards such as floods account for 85 per cent of internal displacement in Burundi. Here, an aerial view of the Kinyinya II displacement site, whose emergency shelters constructed by IOM house hundreds of families displaced by flooding.

Photo: IOM Burundi 2022/ Amaury Falt-Brown

A man displaced by floods is building a semi-permanent shelter in Buhomba, Burundi, through IOM’s Cash for Work initiative. Over the course of the past year alone, IOM has built emergency shelters for thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been affected by flooding. Within the displacement sites, latrines and showers have also been built or rehabilitated en masse, to limit the spread of diseases and ensure that people are able to attend to their basic hygiene needs. Additionally, IOM distributes hygiene kits within the sites and hosts hygiene awareness-raising sessions. 

Photo: IOM Djibouti 2020

Accessing water in Djibouti’s harsh deserts, where temperatures can rise over 40 degrees Celsius, is extremely difficult for migrants transiting the country. Here, a staff member of IOM's mobile unit is distributing water for stranded migrants arriving from Yemen in the Obock region.

Photo: IOM Ethiopia 2022/ Hiyas Bagabaldo

In Ethiopia, IOM has been providing access to clean and safe water for the country’s internally displaced populations through a variety of WASH initiatives at displacement sites throughout the country. Here, an IOM staff is washing his hands at a newly constructed water pump in Kebero Meda Camp, Gondar, Ethiopia.

Photo: IOM Ethiopia 2022/ Hiyas Bagabaldo

Nearly 7 million people are impacted by the ongoing drought in Ethiopia, which has already displaced over 420,000 people within the country. Here, women wait in line to collect water at a water point in Guyah collective centre for IDPs, Afar, Ethiopia.

Photo: IOM Kenya/ Watson Maina

The impact of climate change on the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) in the region – primarily in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia – has been severe. Thousands of families are being forced to leave their homes in search of food, water and pasture, heightening pressure on already limited natural resources. Utilizing groundwater sustainably is critical to address water security and build resilience to future shocks. Here, community residents in Kenya are being shown proper sanitation measures at a community well.

Photo: IOM Kenya/ Watson Maina

IOM is committed to guaranteeing inclusion and fighting inequalities that principally affect women, girls, disabled people, refugees, and internally displaced people – who are more often the poorest and the most marginalized when it comes to their basic human rights to water. Here, IOM staff are engaging with Lunga Lunga residents during a WASH awareness community drive in Kenya.

Photo: IOM Rwanda

Extensive land borders, combined with intense trade and travel, facilitate the spread of infectious diseases across countries in East Africa. In Rwanda, IOM is constructing handwashing stations and carrying out Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) initiatives in areas that experience high levels of human mobility. In 2021, IOM constructed and donated 124 handwashing stations in Rwanda, targeting several key border districts (Rubavu, Musanze, Kirehe, Nyagatare, Bugesera and Rusizi) to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Pictured: one of the handwashing stations built in the District of Kirehe, Rwanda.

Photo: IOM Rwanda

In Rwanda, IOM is utilizing water to support the COVID-19 response for refugees and other vulnerable communities. In addition to providing personal protective equipment (PPE), IOM procured 127 tippy taps, which is a hands-free device for hand washing (pictured above) that is especially designed for rural areas where there is no running water, and constructed 66 durable handwashing stations in schools.

Photo: IOM Somalia 2020/ Tobin Jones

Somalia is current experiencing a devastating drought following multiple failed rainy seasons, and access to water is becoming increasingly dire across the country. Currently, over 7 million people throughout the country do not have access to clean and safe water. Here, a group of women and girls wait to fill up their jerry cans at an IOM water point in Dolow Borehole in Somalia.

Photo: IOM Somalia 2020/ Tobin Jones

Drought has forced more than 500,000 people into displacement since November 2021, adding to the 2.9 million who were already internally displaced inside the country. Deteriorating drought conditions in Somalia could displace over 1 million people by April if urgent action is not taken. Here, a young girl carries water from an IOM water point in Dolow Borehole.

Photo: IOM South Sudan/ Jale Richard

IOM provides reliable and safe water for the displaced communities in Bentiu, Unity State, South Sudan. Here, an onion-like surface water treatment system at one of the displacement sites in Bentiu, is increasing water treatment capacity.

Photo: IOM Tanzania

Good WASH practices, that are consistently applied, can help to curb the spread of waterborne and other communicable diseases. In Tanzania, IOM is teaming up with the East African Community to conduct health and hygiene risk awareness activities and build the capacity of key community influencers.

Photo: IOM Uganda/ Susan Bridget Akoli

Flash floods and mudslides have left a wake of devastation in Uganda, washing away houses and roads, and displacing tens of thousands of people in the past few years. Here, an internally displaced woman washes her clothes using basins newly supplied by IOM, following heavy floods in western Uganda in 2020.

Photo: IOM Uganda/Richard Kavuma

Over the last five years, IOM has carried out a wide range of WASH activities in refugee resettlements. Activities have included, among others, the construction of latrines and other facilities for schools and hospitals – where they are used by both refugees and host communities, construction and rehabilitation of boreholes, piped water systems, rainwater harvesting systems and other mechanisms to help those in need access clean and safe water. Here, a Congolese refugee explains the importance of the pit latrine newly constructed for him by IOM in Bwiriza zone in Kyaka II Settlement, Kyegegwa district, in early 2020.

For more information about IOM's WASH-related work in the region, contact: Amber Christino, Media and Communications Officer at IOM Regional Office for East and Horn of Africa, Email: achristino@iom.int 

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
SDG 13 - Climate Action