Aid worker stories

EAST AFRICA AID WORKERS: Simeneh Gebeyehu, National Water and Sanitation Officer, UNHCR

Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia

I know how important my skills are when it comes to saving lives. I am based in Jijiga, Eastern Ethiopia. It’s a challenging location as we’re close to the border with Somalia and we work with refugees who have fled civil war, or been displaced by the recent food crisis.Simeneh Gebeyehu speaks to a group of people © REDR

I am responsible for water, sanitation and hygiene promotion in three refugee camps – Kebribeyah, Sheder and Awbare –home to more than 40,000 people. My job is to ensure people have clean, safe water to drink, and that they don’t have to walk more than 200 metres to get it. I am also responsible for making sure there are enough sanitation facilities – such as toilets. Not to mention, helping people keep their jerry cans clean, as well as teaching hand-washing practices. It’s always busy!

It would be even busier if a larger-scale emergency was to hit. Effective water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion are all so important during a major crisis: that’s when the real life- saving work is done. Recently, my colleagues and I have been extending and updating our skills on two RedR trainings. With the help of experienced water engineers, we have been assessing what we would do if we had a rapid influx of people to our camps.

We have learnt how to design boreholes so we can access more water from the ground. And how to select the correct pipes and use them effectively. Many of my colleagues learnt things they didn’t know before, like water quality testing – and how much chlorine to add to dirty water to make it safe. Since then we have had some great results: we are all more confident when designing water supply systems, we have had decreased incidence of disease in the camps and water quality and volume has increased.

If you don’t know how to do your job, particularly during a major disaster, you can create an emergency on top of an emergency. And if you’re not doing your job properly, you’re also wasting funds. That’s not good for anyone.

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Photo: Simeneh Gebeyehu (right) © RedR

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