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Uganda: Running the fastest growing refugee settlement in the world

A child refugee in Bidibidi camp. Photo: Bertha Wangari

South Sudan faced fresh challenges in 2016. An already fragile peace deal fell apart in July when fighting broke out in Juba, leaving more than 200 dead. The fighting spread to other parts of the country, marking an escalation of untold suffering including claims of torture and widespread rape of women.

By September 2016, refugees fleeing South Sudan into neighbouring countries crossed the one million mark.

The UN has said that ethnic cleansing is happening in South Sudan and has warned that the stage is being set for genocide. Immediate action is needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Through its main partner in Uganda, the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR), the European Commission has been responding to the massive influx of refugees arriving daily in Uganda. The Commission has also allocated over €78 million to support South Sudanese refugees, both in South Sudan and in neighbouring countries, especially Uganda.

Bertha Wangari, Information and Communications Assistant, EU Humanitarian aid Operations.

Across the border, Uganda is bearing the brunt of the violence in South Sudan. In just a few months, the mass influx of refugees from South Sudan has made Uganda the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, with over 850 000 refugees and counting. Since July, over 330 000 South Sudanese have crossed into Uganda. A majority of them were taken to the Bidibidi refugee settlement, which was open for habitation only in August.

Settling refugees at Bidibidi has been a massive logistical operation led by the government of Uganda, through the Office of the Prime minister (OPM) and the UN Refugee agency, which coordinate tens of aid organisations, each with specific roles.

Between 2 500 and 4 000 refugees arrive on a daily basis. Despite the high numbers, 36 hours after entering Uganda, refugees are registered, their children vaccinated, provided with food and assigned a plot of land on which they can live and cultivate food. “Before July, Bidibidi was dense bush land with wildlife everywhere,” says Robert Baryamwesiga, the OPM settlement commandant at Bidibidi. “Today, it is a fast expanding settlement with more than 200 000 people.

Over 300 kilometres of road have been built to create access and ease movement of humanitarians and supplies in the settlement.

During his visit to BidiBidi, in November 2016, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management Christos Stylianides announced a €78 million aid package to help South Sudanese refugees and migrant both inside South Sudan and in neighbouring countries.

So, what does a month of running the fastest growing refugee settlement in the world look like?


All children are given the measles and polio vaccination upon arrival at Bidibidi camp. Photo: EU/ECHO/Bertha Wangari

All children are given the measles and polio vaccination upon arrival. They are also screened for malnutrition. In November 2016 alone, a total of over 10 000 medical consultations were carried out.  The leading causes of illness have been malaria, acute respiratory tract infections and acute watery diarrhea.  There are 186 members of skilled health staff at Bidibidi. 


Lack of sufficient water is the most pressing problem at Bidibidi. The settlement lies on a ‘water stressed’ district, which has meant that a lot of water provided brought in by trucks, this is known as 'water trucking'.  Alternatives to this are urgently needed. In the first week of November 2016, the average supply of water at Bidibidi stood at 9.9 litres per person per day.  The proportion of water supply was at 62% by water trucking, 24% by hand pumps and 14% by piped water distribution systems.

There are 52 trucks which are used for transporting clean water around the five zones of Bidibidi. 


Each refugee is provided with a shelter kit upon arrival at Bidibidi camp. Photo: EU/ECHO/Bertha Wangari

Every refugee is provided with core relief items upon arrival and a shelter kit once settled on their plots of land. Some of the items supplied include blankets, floor mats, mosquito nets, poles and plastic sheets for shelter. Aid organisations help the elderly and the weak to put up their structures.


World Vision, a humanitarian organisation with funding from the EU - provides new arrivals with a hot meal on their first nights at Bidibidi. After being assigned to their plots, WFP starts the distribution of monthly food rations which include cereals, beans, peas, vegetable oil, salt and flour. However, this is not without its challenges. WFP is spending around $12 million a month on foodand other supportfor refugees in Uganda. Ration cuts introduced in August 2016, at the onset of the refugee influx, are still in place. 


In 2017, the European Commission has committed to raise its global funding for education to 6% of its humanitarian budget up from 4%. Photo: EU/ECHO/Bertha Wangari

With 10 primary schools and one secondary school in Bidibidi, only 27 000 children are enrolled in school. There are more than 90 000 school-age children in the settlement. At least 45 schools would need to be built to fill the existing gap for schools.

In 2017, the European Commission has committed to raise its global funding for education to 6% of its humanitarian budget up from 4%.


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