For years, Josephine Mbayo watched as fights broke out in her community over water.
“There was only one hand pump for all the sections that everyone queued at to get water from as early as 4am,” says the 48-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who lives in the Tongogara Refugee Camp in a semi-arid part of Zimbabwe. She arrived at the camp in 2012. “People would quarrel and almost physically fight for water at the bush pump,” she added.
The improvement in access to water has been a life-changer for residents of the refugee camp, offering new opportunities for both the camp and host communities.
Located in the southeast of Harare in a region that receives the least rainfall in the country, the Tongogara Camp is home to over 17,000 refugees, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. They have been hosted by local communities of Chipangayi area in Chipinge District for more than 20 years.
In this fragile environment, both refugees and host communities have had to face many challenges. Access to clean and reliable water was once one of the biggest obstacles because there was only one borehole for everyone to use. When the water ran dry, women were forced to wait all day long for the borehole to regenerate. Sometimes what came out was dirty and lead to illness, especially among children.
Mbayo is a health and hygiene worker in her community in section 5 of the camp, ensuring her neighbours know how to protect themselves from different diseases, including Covid-19. For the past couple of years, Mbayo has also supervised water points and water activities.
In 2018, the situation at the camp improved tremendously. There is no more waiting for hours. New high-capacity boles and an irrigation system were installed with funding from the African Development Bank. All the ten sections of the camp and surrounding communities now receive piped water because five boreholes were drilled, two in the camp and three in the neighbouring communities. The total pumping capacity of the boreholes is 28,000 liters per hour, powered by solar panels.
“Now it’s easy, we can get the water at any time. The water is available all day. We are very happy with this new system of water,” explains Mbayo. Not only does the water run all day, but 132 solar lights were also installed in strategic areas so that the water points receive a flood light each, creating a freedom of movement to fetch water at any time, keeping animals, mostly elephants, away. The lights have also resulted in a flourishing night life, with small shops remaining open for longer.
The improved access to water has also opened new prospects for women in the camp: “This same line of water enables us to make our [community] gardens because the water is available now,” Mbayo said. “Now we can grow some vegetables and maize…We can have a nice balanced diet in our families. Instead of eating beans every day, I can now have my vegetables and some fresh maize from our gardens,” she cheered. Josephine sells the extra vegetables and crops she grows at the camp’s market, to both refugees and locals. Within two years, her monthly income has risen from $5 to around $75, which she has invested in the well-being of her family.
The installation of the new water lines and modern irrigation system was led by the UN Refugee Agency and financed by the African Development Bank. The Bank’s partnership with the UNHCR recognizes the complex nature of addressing fragility and building a resilient Africa. In situations like refugee camps, humanitarian situations are lasting longer, to the extent that certain communities have spent more than 20 years in camps.
UNHCR plays a critical role in addressing the needs of vulnerable communities that are at the bottom of the pyramid. The agency enhances their capacity to earn livelihoods sustainably. The Bank has a leadership role in policy dialogue, partnerships and advocacy around fragility and building resilience. Through this project, both organizations aim to show why fragile contexts require long-term, sustainable solutions to improve the lives of both the refugees and host communities, because effectively building resilience goes far beyond a project cycle.
Mbayo’s story is living proof of how the UNHCR-Bank project has laid the foundation for a more prosperous future.
This project is one of the many success stories that will be shared at the upcoming Africa Resilience Forum, a flagship event conceived by the African Development Bank Group to bring together key stakeholders to create solutions to address fragility and build a resilient continent.