Working hard to keep disease at bay in Ethiopia’s refugee camps
By: Torbjörn Granrot, Swedish Red Cross and Katherine Mueller, IFRC
They fled conflict in South Sudan and are now committed volunteers as part of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society’s efforts to support the vulnerable refugee population. They clean toilets and keep the camp in Gambela, Ethiopia, where 48,000 fellow refugees have settled, clean to help reduce the spread of disease.
There is a severe shortage of latrines in the camp, with more than 800 people having to share one toilet. There used to be more but they were destroyed by flooding. As a result, the unhygienic practice of open defecation is common. Red Cross volunteers are tasked with keeping the grasses low, to encourage people to use the latrines, and help keep the spread of disease in check.
“We work to change people’s behaviour,” says Nyajape Gong, a Red Cross volunteer who also fled from South Sudan. She is one of 300 volunteers inside the camp who has received training on hygiene promotion, messaging she shares with her neighbours in an effort to keep everyone healthy. “We teach people the importance of washing their hands, especially after using the latrine. We are also handing out soap, but we need more.”
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, with the support of Movement partners, has launched an emergency appeal of 1,050,574 Swiss francs to assist the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in reaching more than 34,000 South Sudanese refugees and host families with life-saving aid. Interventions focus on reducing health risks through the provision of first aid, hygiene promotion, ambulance service, and environmental cleaning in Leitchor camp and Ningnang. The appeal is currently 72 per cent funded.
“First I say thank you,” says Gatkouth. “When the fighting started in my home village, many people died and some disappeared so we decided to leave. The Red Cross has since helped me with my education.” Understandably, Gatkouth and thousands of other refugees would prefer to be back in their own country, living in familiar surroundings, but ongoing insecurity makes that voyage impossible. Instead, they count the days until they can return home.
“I wish people could live in a peaceful way,” says Gong. “If there is peace we will go back.”