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The quarantine shelters that will save S.Sudanese refugee lives

(NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL) – Uganda is gradually emerging from a lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Many families have been affected and are not sure how they’ll source their next meal. To help save lives, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is working hard to control the spread of the virus and ensure people’s lives are restored to normalcy.

Goboro, located in Uganda’s Kochi sub-county of Yumbe district, is home to thousands of South Sudanese refugees. They have crossed the border into a welcoming Uganda hoping to build new lives, free from the threat of violence.

Life in Yumbe can be tough. Many residents live from hand-to-mouth, relying on small daily incomes and humanitarian assistance. But it is Uganda’s new threat, Covid-19, that is stretching resources to the absolute limit.

As the coronavirus began sweeping through wealthy European nations, Ugandan authorities acted fast to protect their people from the disease. Freedom of movement was cut completely. Markets and workplaces closed, and with them, the ability of many to feed their families.

For nations with vast resources, it is easier to accommodate these types of prevention measures. But in poorer nations, like Uganda, that hosts over 1.4 million refugees, and has a critically underfunded refugee response, they pose an additional threat to already stretched resources.

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Jimmy Moro, 56, is the chairman of Village III in BidiBidi Refugee Settlement, West Nile. He fears the consequences of Covid-19. “The pandemic has changed people’s lives in the village,” he states. “The markets are all closed due to Covid-19. So, my community does not have enough food.”

It is vital for those living below the poverty line that the lockdown is completely lifted as quickly as possible. One effective way to reduce the spread of coronavirus is to quarantine those who are suspected of contracting the virus or have arrived from abroad. This is usually performed in homes, but in areas where families live in overcrowded shelters, this is not possible.

Dr Yayi, the district health officer, explains: “The district has insufficient space to accommodate people in quarantine. With the war in South Sudan showing no signs of subsiding soon, the numbers may swell in the coming days.”

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It became clear that new quarantine shelters were needed – and fast.

Building quarantine shelters in just two weeks

NRC was approached by the district’s Covid-19 task force to build quarantine centres in this refugee hosting district in West Nile. Thanks to flexible funding provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we were able to get to work right away.

The shelters are constructed from prefabricated crushed stone, an environmentally friendly building material. Each of the six new units has been partitioned into two compartments, providing space for a total of 12 isolation rooms.

Dr Yayi is grateful for these new shelters. “We can now make sure that those coming into quarantine will be well accommodated and this will of course contribute to the control of Covid-19 in this district,” he explains.

The new quarantine facility serves both refugees and the host community. It is now fully operational and has admitted its first patient.

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These new shelters provide a lifeline for the refugees and host communities as they observe the public health measures prescribed by the government of Uganda. We hope that the virus can be defeated and the lockdown completely lifted so that the people here can access food and other basic necessities.

Our emergency response in Uganda

NRC is a member of the national taskforce for Covid-19 in Uganda and is supporting the government in increasing their capacity to prevent and respond to the pandemic.

Ulrika Blom, NRC’s Country Director in Uganda says:

“As NRC, we are realigning and continuing with our programmes to take on the emerging challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have expanded our health and water, sanitation and hygiene programmes and are mitigating against Covid-19 through distribution of soap, installation of handwashing stations and cash programming. However, it’s important for the international community to give Uganda the much-needed attention and support in addressing the massively underfunded refugee response to avoid the situation escalating into a massive food insecurity and protection crisis. ”

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