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close this bookICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)
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Rwanda: ICRC Newsletter No. 3

22 March 1996

Clean water for millions of Rwandese

The International Water Day 22 March

In Rwanda, as in other countries that have been affected by war and human tragedy, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is committed to repairing water distribution systems that have been damaged, and to restoring water supplies to the civilian population as rapidly as possible.

In a little publicized action and as part of its efforts to support the national authorities, the ICRC has, since the war, helped bring clean water to millions of Rwandese.

In situations of armed violence (conflicts, tension, disturbances), the ICRC has a mandate to take preventive measures and to act without delay to ensure protection and aid for people affected by hostilities.

The ICRC appeals to regional water networks and associations, to professionals in the water industry,

to UN agencies, to concerned international bodies and to NGOs to assist in making it possible to respond more effectively and more rapidly to alleviate the human suffering caused by the damage to water supplies.

The ICRC calls for greater respect for international humanitarian law protecting water in times of armed conflict, and welcomes any further efforts to strengthen and, if necessary, to develop those rules.

Moreover, upgrading the water structures within the country helps prepare the ground for a return of refugees.

The ICRC reroutes pipelines, reinforces river crossings and repairs broken pipes, reservoirs, treatment plants and pumping stations. Training of local water caretakers is included in the projects, as well as hygiene education for the rural population. A theatre piece written by the American Red Cross explains how to avoid catching water-borne diseases.

To combat the appalling conditions in the prisons, the ICRC has supplied the detainees with life-saving water rations as well as installed dozens of reservoirs, toilets, showers and septic tanks.

In 1995, the main towns in Rwanda had access to clean, treated water largely thanks to essential chemicals supplied by the ICRC. But this year, the institution is discontinuing its assistance in aluminium sulphate and chlorine as the Rwandese company Electrogaz itself ensures the supply of these chemicals.

The ICRC is accustomed to working in emergency situations, where quick but short-term action to supply water prevents disease and saves lives. Says ICRC water and sanitation coordinator for Rwanda, Markus Baechler, about the institution’s common context:

“In armed conflicts a lack of clean water can kill as many people as bullets and bombs. We work to help the population gain access to water sources, to prevent distribution from being cut, power and pumping stations from being shelled and the water contaminated.”

On Friday 29 March, the ICRC completed repair work on the Mburabuturo pumping station as a step towards ensuring a sufficient potable water supply in the Kigali neighbourhood of Gikondo.

On Saturday 30 March, the station, one of several being refurbished by the ICRC in cooperation with the Rwandese, was officially opened by Mr. Charles Ntakirutinka, Minister of Public Works and Energy (MINITRAPE).

But Rwanda was different. There was no high-tech bombing such as in Bosnia nor was there a direct use of water as a weapon against civilians which was the case in Aden. Instead the small, landlocked country faced very particular challenges when emerging from the devastation of the genocide. As Markus Baechler observes:

“The main concern was the flight of manpower to the neighbouring countries that led to the already fragile network of water managers being completely destroyed. The end-result was a rapid deterioration of most technical facilities as nobody cared about tending to them. On the contrary, people tried to force out as big amounts of water as possible by, for instance, making holes in the pipelines.”

To deal with this situation, the ICRC decided to launch comprehensive projects designed to respond to the dual challenges of social and technical rehabilitation.

“We made a special point of emphasizing education on the grassroots level, along the hundreds of kilometres of water pipeline criss-crossing the country. The key words were sustainability and self-sufficiency - goals that we are now slowly reaching.”

On the question of current threats to the water supply system in Rwanda, Markus Baechler notes that the water pumping, treatment and distribution systems are sometimes directly targeted in operations of sabotage.

More often, however, attacks on electrical power lines in the border regions reduce the all-over generation of electricity. Electricity is necessary for the pumping of water in an urban environment and although most pumping stations are equipped with stand-by generators, their functioning is limited due to lack of fuel, poor maintenance and shortage of spare parts.

The American, Australian, British and Swedish Red Cross Societies cover 1/5 of the country

with 7 projects carried out in 35 communes in 8 prefectures.

NEWS-IN-BRIEF:

TRACING: Since August 1994, the ICRC has reunited 3,300 Rwandese children with their parents. However, more than 55,000 children in the Great Lakes region are still without contact with their families out of more than 90,000 registered as unaccompanied in the ICRC data base. In addition, the ICRC has information on more than 38,000 parents searching for their children.

The Red Cross Message service is also an integral part of re-establishing links between family members. To date, 1,600,000 RCMs have been distributed.

DETENTION: As part of its protection activities, the ICRC has to date registered 67,602 detainees in 266 places of detention (figures on 15.03.96). At the end of February, ICRC was visiting 66,295 detainees in 265 places of detention whereas the figures at the end of January were 65,648 inmates in 263 places of detention.