Sustainable site selection for accommodating new refugees in Uganda

In response to the protracted refugee crisis, the Ugandan government is implementing a progressive refugee policy considered as the most generous one in the world. This project came as a response towards the expected influx of Congolese forcibly displaced persons, who will be partly accommodated in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Southern Uganda.

The prime focus of the project is where and how to accommodate new refugees coming from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) considering the capacity of the area in Nakivale refugee settlement and in the surrounding areas in terms of water resources and water security, from a development perspective (see Figure 1). The by-catch is that the results could be shared with similar situations concerning Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs) and/or refugees elsewhere in the world.

Figure 1. Refugees and Asylum-Seekers in Uganda (source: UNHCR, 2019)

Our reason to act: Leaving no one behind

No one should be left behind when it comes to access to enough and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene services. At Deltares we care about the inclusion of refugees and other vulnerable groups in the achievement of SDG6 and other water related SDGs; as they, as anyone else, need water as a necessity to life.

We perform this task bearing in mind the natural resources and the need of protecting the environment not only within the settlements for refugees and IDPs, but also looking for integrated solutions that can bring co-benefits to both the refugees, IDPs, and the local population.

The project in Uganda

Uganda is pioneering the application of the Global Compact on Refugees by piloting the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) via its progressive refugee policy. The rights of refugees are enshrined in Uganda’s 2006 Refugee Act and the 2010 Refugee Regulations. Moreover, the Refugee and Host Population Empowerment Strategic Framework (REHOPE) is a key component in the application of the CRRF and aims the integration of refugees into the national development and sectoral plans in Uganda. Within the given frameworks, refugees have freedom of movement and are included in the host communities through access to basic and social services such as education and labour markets, following the whole-of-society approach.

Refugees collecting drinking water Nakivale refugee settlement (Photo credits: Alessia Matano, Deltares)

Integrated Water Resources Management

This new mode of operation, which asks for the integration of the humanitarian and development perspectives, gives priority to employing a catchment-based Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach for the effective and more efficient use of resources not only within the refugee settlement, but also catchment-wide, where the hosting community work and live. This way we establish sustainable development and protection of water and its related resources while bringing social cohesion to both communities and improving their welfare and economic prosperity through the creation of livelihood opportunities, during a crisis and afterwards.

Site selection considering humanity and nature

Methods, models and tools are tailor-made to allow rapid-made but fact-based and as accurate as possible informed decisions on where to accommodate these new refugees considering the time constraints and the availability of data. The accommodation of 10,000 – 30,000 newly-arrived refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo in Nakivale refugee settlement in Uganda is a pilot project. Three options were considered for the study: (i) enlarge Nakivale refugee settlement; (ii) build a new refugee settlement; or (iii) accommodate new refugees in urban/rural areas together with the hosting community.


For this project we had to work from a new angle. First, integrating the humanitarian and the development perspectives in terms of water and environment brings significant challenges. Following the IWRM approach, the refugee settlement should not be considered as a boundary for the developments, instead the catchment boundaries needed to be considered.

Second, new methods, models and tools were developed to be able to undertake integrated assessment of water resources and water security, considering the specific requirements to be addressed: (i) rapid assessment (combining global and local data and models); (ii) dealing with scarce and often poor quality of available data and, (iii) accurate enough for decision-making.

Third, other elements play a significant role in the process of selecting the site for new refugees. These can be political, cultural, economic or social reasons. There needs to be the political will to consider water resources and water security in the criteria for site selection, particularly when following a development perspective.


An integrated water resource assessment was conducted as part of the project. It included: a drought risk assessment, water availability (surface and ground water and rainfall) and water balance study, a water quality assessment and a costs assessment. A multi-criteria decision analysis was made for developing and selecting the preferred set of options considering the objectives and criteria commonly and additionally used for site selection in terms of water security and following the IWRM approach. These are:

  • High safety for the refugee community;
  • High reliability of raw water quantity;
  • High acceptance and integration of refugees in the host community;
  • Low costs.

Next project phase will involve a 3-days workshop organized in 2020 for exchanging the knowledge and sharing the methods, models and tools with UNHCR, the Ministry of Water and Environment, the Victoria Water Management Zone team and other stakeholders such as the NGOs working in the informal settlement.

Furthermore, a set of measures will be studied for implementation in the catchment area as well as in Nakivale refugee settlement to improve the water security conditions, together with the actors afore mentioned and development agencies in order to ensure collective action.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Water and Environment, UNHCR and Deltares are exploring the possibility of refining the model to be applied in other parts of the country, either in other refugee hosting districts or for site selection to accommodate IDPs due to a natural disaster.

Refugees in Nakivale refugee settlement (Photo credits: Laura Basco Carrera, Deltares)

Forecasted results

  • Guarantee reliable access of refugees to adequate drinking water in the same conditions as the hosting population, in accomplishment of the WHO and UNHCR water supply targets;
  • Reduce the vulnerability of refugees and the hosting community to water-risks;
  • Guarantee a more effective and efficient use of water and natural resources in the refugee settlements and within the catchment to improve the welfare and livelihoods of the refugee and hosting populations, and as a result, empowering both communities and improving their social cohesion;
  • Finally, an important aim of the project was to develop a generic framework and associated methods, models and tools that could be applied worldwide.


  • UNHCR HQs in Geneva and UNHCR Uganda;
  • Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda, Directorate of Water Resources Management;
  • Victoria Water Management Zone team Uganda;
  • Delft University of Technology;
  • Aalto University in Helsinki;
  • With specific collaborations from the Office of the Prime Minister in Uganda.