3.5 Common characteristics of displaced and resident populations
Displaced Populations. When an emergency involves the
displacement of a population, the agency charged with the provision of water and
sanitation is usually working from a basis of little or no infrastructure. The
population will probably have settled where it feels safe and is within
reasonable access to water. It is likely that the site it has chosen, or which
has been chosen for it by the government or an international agency, will be
remote, undeveloped and will offer little in terms of natural resource
potential. Indeed, the fact that the land is available almost certainly means
that the local populations have chosen not to utilise it for those very reasons.
Under such circumstances an agency is faced with the enormous task of
establishing appropriate water supply and sanitation systems in the shortest
The displaced population will have moved, if possible, as a
unit, e.g. as a family, village, or district. Full use should be made of this
factor as communities of this kind will have brought their own social structure
with them, and this will be very helpful in terms of organising
responsibilities, labour and the management of systems.
There will be large numbers of people in a confined area. In
effect, virtually overnight rural populations are faced with living in
conditions of very high urban population density. For many rural people this
will be the first time they have experienced such living conditions and they
will be unaware of the implications the situation has for their health.
In contrast, there are occasions when the small numbers of
people settling in a particular area make it difficult to deliver, or possibly
to justify the expense of, the level of service that is needed. This is most
likely to be the case with people who have been displaced within their own
country and who prefer to settle as near as possible to their home area. This
was the situation on a large scale in the Ruhengeri region in northern Rwanda
when overnight 900,000 people were displaced by fighting in February 1993. Large
numbers of people settled in many small settlements.
Refugee populations typically contain a much higher than normal
percentage of women and children. It is also probable that there will be a large
number of sick, wounded and disabled people. All these groups will have their
own special needs.
For these reasons it is crucial that there is a rapid and
immediate response. Delays in making decisions, debating technical solutions and
deploying staff can prove tragic.
Resident populations. Working with resident populations
poses very different challenges for the intervening agency. The problem usually
is that the established infrastructure can no longer provide the level of
service required. For example, wells may have dried up or pumps broken down. The
need therefore is to look at ways of rehabilitating, improving or upgrading
systems so that they can continue to provide for the community.
There is a much greater need for sensitivity with respect to
ongoing development initiatives in the area. For example, if there has been a
long established community management structure for the maintenance of wells and
an agency, seeing an emergency need, takes it upon itself to rehabilitate those
same wells, it is probable that long-term damage can be imposed on the community
In the same context, it is important that any technical work
should be sustainable. The village will continue to exist long after the
emergency has run its course; attention must therefore be paid to the
community's ability to live with the solutions that have been decided upon to
address the immediate needs of an emergency.
Emergencies affecting resident populations will be either
slow-onset i.e. drought or sudden-onset, i.e. natural disasters. In both
instances the most important aspect is to identify the potential emergency as
quickly as possible. If it is recognised early on that there is going to be a
problem of water supply and/or sanitation with a resident population, there are
less likely to be any negative long-term impacts as solutions can be carefully
considered and more appropriate to the long-term needs of the community. In this
context, early warning systems and disaster mitigation measures play an