My First Mission with MSB to UNHCR Uganda – Two Sunsets A Day

Photo Credit: UNHCR/David Aziz

My greetings to all colleagues!

I am a Roving Shelter Officer based in Kampala. Here in Yumbe/Bidibidi Settlement, Yumbe – Uganda, I was deployed to Uganda mission on 1st August 2016 when huge South Sudan Refugee influx started to cross border to Uganda. My New Year holiday was a low-key affair. A majority of refugees are Christian and Yumbe district is heavily Muslim. Apart from few minor incidences, refugees and host communities live side-by-side in peaceful harmony making our assignment less of a challenge than it would have been. Challenges persist, however, in many other aspects.

 Yumbe is the administrative centre of the district where the Bidibidi settlement is. A small, dusty town with some shops and limited accommodation facilities. Some colleagues have opted to stay in Yumbe town where our office is for the ease of transportation. I stay in Koboko with many other colleagues, about 60 kilometres from the settlement and commute daily to Yumbe, and Bidibidi settlement. The early morning commute is the highest point of busy, and sometimes frustrating. The raising orangey sun setting when we drive back leaves one with the impression of having watched two sunsets in a day. The drive through sleeping villages, homesteads bounded by cerveza plants and flame trees in blossom, the mist crossing the dusty road like bridal veils make the commute, and the early waking up, worthwhile.

The Pearl Inn is the hotel where I stay in Koboko. A decent, new and clean and somewhat noisy place on weekends when the bar’s television shows Premier League matches. The Pearl Inn has a Solar system in place when the electricity disappears, which is very common in Koboko town. The kitchen was recently upgraded to both local and international dishes. There are two banks in Koboko, Stanbic and Centenary. The ATM at Stanbic accepts Visa and Master cards. The three supermarket offer a limited range of basic provisions, and in the colourful market near the town centre seasonal fruits are available. Mangoes. Bananas. Oranges. Pineapples.

Many refugees

Uganda’s refugee population stands at one of the highest points in its history with 788,692 refugees and asylum seekers in country as of September 2016. The majority of these refugees originate from South Sudan. With no sign of mass arrivals to Uganda reducing as we are approaching the end of 2016, and continued concerns about violent conflict in South Sudan, no progress on a political solution and reports of severe conflict induced food insecurity, the Uganda operation continues to arrive in Uganda as of May and foresee a large scale emergency response also in the second quarter of 2017

Yumbe/ Bidibidi Uganda hosted 272,607 refugees from South Sudan making the settlement currently the largest refugee settlement in the world in terms of surface area. Bidibidi is a sprawl of 250 square kilometres divided into five Zones, and 25 villages. In 2017, it is anticipated that another 300,000 South Sudanese refugees may flee to Uganda with 64% being children. The new arrivals have been relocated to other settlements, including Palorinya, in the neighbouring Moyo District and Imvepi Settlement near Arua town.

Photo Credit: UNHCR/ U Aye Maung

In the shelter, Infrastructure and NFIs sector, I have contributed the development of new shelter strategy to transition from emergency shelter to a semi-permanent shelter approach. All new South Sudanese refugee arrivals since July 2016 have received emergency shelter support (tools, wooden poles and plastic sheeting). PSNs (People with Specific Needs) have been supported with the construction of shelters In line with the phase-in new semi-permanent shelter strategy, as of June 2017, this approach will gradually transition to a cash-based intervention for shelter for PSN, so that households can engage wage labour for shelter construction. Furthermore, all refugee households receive an NFI package (blankets, kitchen sets, bars of soap, plastic basins, jerry cans (20 litres), sleeping mats, and mosquito nets) upon arrival in Uganda. Women of reproductive age in the settlements receive regular distributions of dignity kits. We have established coordination meetings in Bidibidi settlement with active Shelter/PSN partners.

As the Refugees transition from Emergency to a more stabilization phase, the needs remain high and the UNHCR support is not commensurate, all the structures from refugees shelters, schools, health centers, nutrition centers and other recreational facilities remain temporary structures made of Plastic tarpaulin and poles, most of them wearied due to the scorching sun in this dry season and the rainy season which already kicked off country-wide, We are receiving new cases of facilities and shelters destroyed in the different settlements on daily basis due to the on-going rains and UNHCR is struggling to respond with a limited fund in place.

Briefing Swedish Ambassador Per Lindgärde in Uganda who paid courtesy visit in Bidibidi Settlement, January 2017. Photo Credit: UNHCR/ Salila

Badar Abdulle
MSB Seconded Civil Engineer/ Shelter Specialist
UNHCR Representation office in Uganda- Kampala Office