Water is essential for life, but dirty water can take it away with alarming efficiency. UNHCR’s Luckson Katsi has seen firsthand the devastating effects of dirty water on the health of refugees in Sudan – and the simple measures that can save lives.

What is your role with UNHCR?

I coordinate the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – or WASH – response for South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. This involves providing strategic direction, leadership and operational support for UNHCR’s WASH activities, not just for refugees but also the host communities that are impacted by the influx of people seeking safety. Without adequate clean water, lives are at risk in as little as 24 hours.

What is the water situation in Sudan?

The water situation is very serious, especially for South Sudanese refugees living in White Nile State. Water sources dry up, or supply systems break down because of overuse. In desperation, many refugees fetch extra water from the White Nile River, which is heavily polluted and not fit for human consumption.

Find out more about the current situation in Sudan >>

"Without adequate clean water, lives are at risk in as little as 24 hours."

Luckson Katsi is a WASH Coordinator in Sudan, where clean water sources are extremely scarce. ©UNHCR/Luckson Katsi

What are some of the effects of dirty water that you’ve seen among refugees?

I’ve witnessed many skin and eye infections. Outbreaks of waterborne diseases like typhoid and acute watery diarrhoea are also common. Children under the age of five are greatly affected by the lack of clean water and sanitation. If they suffer from repeated bouts of diarrhoea, there is a high risk that they will become malnourished and their growth will be stunted. Distributing water purification sachets can instantly decrease the dangers faced by these children.

How many hygiene facilities such as toilets and washrooms do refugees have access to?

Only 52 per cent of refugees have access to a toilet, and most of these facilities are communally owned. In Khor Al Waral, the latrine usage ratio is unacceptably high, with one toilet for every 90 refugees. Due to congestion, these communal latrines are always full, dirty and unappealing, resulting in widespread open defecation. The majority of refugees don’t have washrooms. Some use the latrines while others bathe inside their houses using cups of water.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

With the continuing influx of South Sudanese refugees into Sudan, the work is emotionally hard and requires patience, diplomacy and effective coordination and networking skills. Visiting some refugee settlements and listening to the unbelievably horrendous experiences of refugees, particularly the women, is heartbreaking.


UNHCR works to ensure people forced to flee have access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services. ©Australia for UNHCR

And the most rewarding? 

The most wonderful thing for me is that I can see the tangible improvements to water and sanitation facilities when we get the funding we need, and the smiles on the faces of refugees as they tell what UNHCR has done to help them.

What can Australians do to help provide more clean water and sanitation to refugees in Sudan?

UNHCR’s budget for WASH support in Sudan remains limited in the face of ongoing arrivals fleeing South Sudan’s civil war. And yet access to clean water and sanitation is a basic human right – in a way, it is central to the realisation of all human rights, since water is essential for survival. Donations from generous Australians will help UNHCR provide an adequate water supply to refugee families, as well as more sanitation and hygiene services. This will have an enormous impact on the protection, health and dignity of these vulnerable families.

"The most wonderful thing for me is that I can see the tangible improvements to water and sanitation facilities when we get the funding we need."

Severe shortages of clean water in Sudan’s refugee camps is forcing people to drink polluted river water. ©Australia for UNHCR

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