Winners and losers of infrastructural development: water systems in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camps.

Cory Rodgers, DPhil candidate at Oxford University’s Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, discusses how water infrastructure affects relations between refugee and host communities in the Kakuma camps of northwestern Kenya.

Two water towers, Kakuma. Photo credit – Cory Rodgers.

Compared to the remote, arid plains that surround it, the refugee camps of Kakuma, Kenya stand out as a busy hub of bustling streets, noisy schoolyards and hectic market-places. This is no Nairobi, but Kakuma’s urban character has largely supplanted the images of desolation and austerity that once defined popular representations of the refugee camp: so much so, that Bram Jansen (2011) – focusing on the cosmopolitan character of Kakuma as a site of habitation and place-making – refers to Kakuma as “an accidental city.” While Kakuma is governed as a closed camp for humanitarian relief, the reality of the region’s reliance on the camp economy is apparent. When a government announcement in April 2015 (later retracted) suggested that camp closure was imminent, many locals were confident in their assessment of the potential repercussions: without the camp, Kakuma Town would be nothing.

Recognizing the economic potential of those residing in refugee camps, aid agencies are increasingly promoting and implementing settlement models that place fewer restrictions on refugee mobility and economic activities. In 2014, UNHCR released its Policy on Alternatives to Camps, suggesting that where camps exist, they can be phased out through integration of the refugee residents into the local host community. The policy recognizes that in countries like Uganda that support refugee livelihoods and encourage local integration, “the presence of refugees has stimulated local economies and development.”

As in any urban economy, infrastructure is a crucial foundation on which camp businesses and livelihood activities depend. The development-oriented aid strategies preferred by the international community, from the 1960s zonal development models to the 2014 Alternative to Camps policy, have stressed the importance of finding synergies between humanitarian service provision and national development goals. In its recent policy brief on refugee protection, the UNHCR argues that integration of refugees into local development plans may “prevent the creation of parallel systems for refugees and nationals of a host country, and foster greater social cohesion” (UNHCR 2016).

As sites of humanitarian service provision, camps are already full of infrastructure. The UNHCR’s protection mandate requires it to provide a certain standard of support to those registered in the camp. For water, the Sphere Protocol specifies 20 litres per person per day. Achieving distribution to this standard in a camp of thousands of people requires an elaborate system of boreholes, immersive pumps, generators and solar panels, reservoir tanks, treatment facilities and taps, as well as the plumbing networks that connect these facilities. For this reason, some host countries see it as a matter of national interest to choose remote areas when allocating land for refugee camps, positioning humanitarian to implement infrastructure projects in what would otherwise be neglected peripheries (Kibreab 1989:485).

In Kakuma, camp protection services are generally for refugees exclusively, with parallel projects undertaken for the host community. However the UNHCR and Turkana County Government are currently partnering to implement an innovative settlement model focused on economic integration, just 12km north of Kakuma near the town of Kalobeyei. Refugees and Kenyans will live in close proximity (refugee residences remain restricted to a designated area with demarcated boundaries) with shared markets, community gardens, schools and other social amenities. The novelty of this approach is evident in the plans for water provision. Taps will be provided at the Kalobeyei site for both refugee and host community use. Additionally, rather than limiting refugees to the minimum rations of water for Sphere compliance, agencies aim to provide adequate water for both domestic and livelihood use. The plan has required careful design of infrastructure, with shelters arranged in rectangular compounds of 28 units, each sharing a 5,000 or 10,000-litre water tank.

The appearance of organization and order suggests progress compared to the community water taps in the old Kakuma camps. Taps are located in public spaces, each consisting of four nozzles emerging form a single steel pipe. Residents queue behind their designated nozzles, waiting with their jerry-cans as those in front take their fill. The nozzles do not have any controls; water is released from steel reservoirs perched high above the camp according to a schedule written by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the implementing partner in charge of WASH. During this time, water flows freely from the taps, but jerry-cans and their bearers wait to collect the precious resource. A water system assessment in 2011 indicated that each tap serves an average of 77 people. However, usage/tap varies across the camp, and it has likely increased in many areas due to influxes of new arrivals from conflict areas such as South Sudan.

UNHCR tanker supplying potable water. Photo credit – Cory Rodgers.

The scene appears chaotic, and a newcomer may be confused to see many Turkana people from the local host community standing in the queues. However, each household is assigned a nozzle and a daily allowance, sometimes specified on a card, and order is maintained – as much as possible – by local WASH committees recruited from the community. The Turkana people present have been incorporated as proxies employed by refugee families to fetch water for their homes and, if they can manage on their daily rations, their businesses. Most water carriers earn 500 shillings (about 3 GBP at the time of the research) per month per household for their work. During periodic water shortages, usually due to maintenance problems, Turkana people collect water at shallow wells on the nearby River Taarash and carry them to the camp for sale, asking about 50 shillings (30 pence) per 20 litre jerry-can. They also supply water for the cooling tanks in locally operated electricity generators, which need not be potable.

Through the carefully designed infrastructure layout at Kalobeyei, UNHCR and its partners hope to support economic growth and local integration. However, in places like Kakuma where resource provision is achieved through local ad hoc arrangements, plans to improve formal infrastructure need to recognize the informal systems that they replace. A more integrated water distribution system serving both the refugee and host communities could bring people together around better infrastructure, funded by humanitarian agencies but serving everyone. For those in the Turkana community who sell and transport water for a living, they are the existing water infrastructure, and many may feel robbed of livelihood opportunities if the system is altered. Development-oriented aid strategies have much to offer those with the skills and capital to pursue livelihoods, but decision-makers must acknowledge that these strategies may entail both winners and losers.

This article is a product of research undertaken by Louise Bloom (Humanitarian Innovation Project, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford) and Cory Rodgers (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford) in July and August 2016. Fieldwork was made by possible by seed funding at the Refugee Studies Centre, provided by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

A framework for a joint hydro-meteorological-social analysis of drought

New research published by Oxford-led collaboration as part of the NERC-funded “Historic Droughts” project.

A new paper, led Dr Bettina Lange, Associate Professor of Law and Regulation at Oxford University’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, sets out a framework for a joint hydro-meteorological-social analysis of drought.

The research, published in Science of the Total Environment, defines and links, in an innovative way, ‘drivers’ of, ‘responses’ to, and ‘impacts’ of drought. It explores how these work at various temporal and spatial scales, with particular reference to the 1976 and 2003-6 drought episodes in the UK.

The key objective of the framework is to develop a more integrated understanding of the ‘drivers’, ‘responses’ and ‘impacts’ of drought, that bridges their natural and social dimensions.

The article is the result of a cross-disciplinary collaboration between hydrological, socio-legal and agricultural studies involving the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, the British Geological Survey and Cranfield University. The work is part of the UK government Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded ‘Historic Droughts’ Project (NE L010356/1).

A version of this post first appeared on the Faculty of Law website.

The Swarovski Foundation supports scholarship in Water Science, Policy and Management

The Swarovski Foundation strengthens its commitment to safe and sustainable water usage worldwide by supporting a scholarship on the MSc course in Water Science, Policy and Management in the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford.

Ameerah Anathallee is the 2016-17 Swarovski Foundation Scholar, currently undertaking the MSc course in Water Science, Policy and Management. Photo by John Cairns.

Unpredictable floods, water scarcity and droughts, inadequate water supply and sanitation services, and degraded freshwater ecosystems threaten the lives of millions of people worldwide. Decision-makers are increasingly forced to make challenging choices on water development, allocation and management issues at local, regional and international levels, under conditions of increasing climate unpredictability and risk. The University of Oxford’s cross-disciplinary Water Science, Policy and Management master’s course equips the next generation of water professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge to make a significant contribution to tackling the increasingly complex global challenge of sustainable water management.

In 2016-17, the Swarovski Foundation is supporting an exceptional student to take this unique course, enabling them to join Oxford’s growing international network of graduates addressing water issues worldwide.

The Swarovski Foundation was established in 2013 to pursue charitable goals to honour the philanthropic spirit of Daniel Swarovski, who founded the crystal business in 1895. Since then, five generations of the Swarovski family have reinforced the company’s commitment to philanthropy and charitable giving. The new Swarovski Foundation Scholarship further demonstrates the Foundation’s mission to aid, amongst other causes, charitable initiatives and organisations working to conserve natural resources.

The Swarovski Foundation strengthens its commitment to safe and sustainable water usage worldwide by supporting a scholarship on the MSc course in Water Science, Policy and Management in the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford.

Further information

From waterpumps to rowing gold

A brief summary of water-related alumni goings-on at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment.

Water featured prominently in the recent School of Geography and the Environment (SoGE) alumni update. Alumni from Oxford University’s Water, Science, Policy and Management (WSPM) master’s were notable in their achievements: taking Olympic Gold at Rio on the water, and accolades at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Stockholm was one of a number of international events that provided WSPM alumni the opportunity to get-together, and reconnect with staff. The Stockholm reunion is now an annual fixture, so if you plan to attend in 2017, and would like to hook up with Oxford contingent, get in touch.

For a full round-up of recent SoGE alumni news click here.

John Fell Award to explore water scarcity and management

Oxford University’s Centre of Socio-Legal Studies receives new funding to advance research into UK’s industrial water abstraction.

Dr Kevin Grecksch, Research Officer in the Regulation of Water Resources, has been awarded funds to help investigate strategies and options for the UK’s large industrial water consumers.

New funding will enable additional research to shed light on a new and under-explored issue in water resource management: how large UK water consumers such as thermal power stations, pulp and paper mills, and the food and drinks industry prepare for water shortages which are becoming increasingly frequent as part of a changing climate.

These industrial abstractors are often forgotten in academic research and policy debates which are focused on domestic consumption of water, yet water is used by industry either directly, for manufacturing products, or for washing, cooling, and heating during production processes. Hence, businesses need water in order to maintain supply chains and production lines.

Water consumers are generally discussed in a general sense, with limited distinction between the public and private sectors, and the different types of large private industrial abstractors who have different needs and organisational histories in dealing with water. According to the latest report by the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (2016, p.37):

…some water intensive industries are clustered in areas at risk of water scarcity such as paper manufacturing in Kent and chemicals manufacturing in the northwest of England.

This research aims to answer the question as to whether those industries have strategies and plans to (i) react to drought and water scarcity and (ii) if they already apply any proactive measures, to prevent potential disruptions from drought and water scarcity. It will locate and analyse academic and grey literature, as well as industry positions on drought and water scarcity.

The outcome will be a report aimed both at academics as well as practitioners comparing the approaches in literature and across the different industries highlighting strengths, e.g. innovative drought and water scarcity management options such as greywater (re)use, deficits, i.e. non-action with regard to drought and water scarcity management and areas for further research.

A version of this post originally appeared on Oxford University’s Law Faculty website.