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More water from solar power in Dadaab, Kenya

Water means everything to me. It is my number one priority,” says Amina Aden, a mother of eight and a Somali refugee living at the Dadaab Refugee camp, Kenya.

Amina first arrived at the camp in 2011, at a time when water shortage was acute. “But this has changed; I am now able to receive at least 200 litres of water every day for my family,” says Amina with a smile. “I am able to manage the water in my house and take care of the well-being of my family”.

Amina also takes care of her nieces who became orphans following the death of her sister. This increased the demand for water in her family. “I can now wash all my clothes including those of my children and nieces every day,” she says. She rightfully attributes the increase in water supply to a solar-powered water pumping system installed in February 2015.

The largest solar power borehole in Africa, at the Dadaab Refugee camp, constructed by the Norwegian Refugee Council with EU funding. © NRC

The largest solar power borehole in Africa, at the Dadaab Refugee camp, constructed by the Norwegian Refugee Council with EU funding. © NRC


This newly completed water pumping system was installed after a successful pilot project at the Dadaab refugee camp in March 2014 by the Norwegian Refugee Council. It is, so far, the largest, solar-powered borehole in Africa. The solar water system, equipped with 278 solar panels and 69.5 KW power rating, provides the refugees a daily average of 280 000 litres of potable water.

The Norwegian Refugee Council now provides potable water to approximately 16 000 refugees daily. Those serviced by the borehole receive an average of 20 litres of water every day, meeting the minimum requirements of both the UN Refugee Agency and the Sphere Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response.  

We have done a cost-benefit analysis and the results have shown that the new solar-powered water system is by far more economical and presents a better water supply option in a camp situation like Dadaab,” says John Macharia, the project coordinator at the Norwegian Refugee Council for water, sanitation and hygiene in Dadaab.

A diesel-powered solution is energy-intensive, cumbersome and expensive. Diesel generators produce noise, pollute the environment and tend to break down regularly, resulting in high maintenance costs. But with this solar alternative, we will be able to accumulate a saving of nearly 22 000 euros annually or 60 euros daily”.

I have taught my children how to wash their hands

Halima washes her children’s hands with the water provided by the solar-powered pump system. © NRC

Halima Abdi is another beneficiary of this project. She lives at Hagadera Section B, within Dadaab. “My wish has always been to ensure that my children live a healthy life. Previously, that was not possible because the only water available was just enough for drinking and cooking,” explains Halima.

I can now wash my children’s hands and teach them how to do it themselves in order to keep them safe from diseases like diarrhea.

The solar-powered water project is funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA), while the solar pumping equipment is from Lorentz, a Germany-based solar water pumps manufacturer. Building on this successful experience, the European Commission is continuing its partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council on a third project to guarantee a reliable water supply to the refugees in Dadaab.

Unlike in the past, refugees are now able to get the minimum required quantity of water. Amina receives 200 litres of water for her whole family, which comes down to an average of 25 litres per person. In addition, the solar project is creating a positive impact on the environment; it is less noisy and produces no smoke since the solar energy is converted into electrical power. This results into less carbon emission and less pollution in the surrounding environment.

The pilot project in 2014 and the upgraded solar water system in 2015 were funded at a cost of about € 187 000 by the European Commission. 

Amina now has enough water for her daily chores. © NRC

The world’s largest refugee camp, in Kenya’s arid north, boasts the largest solar-powered borehole in Africa. The solar water system in Dadaab is equipped with 278 solar panels and provides 16 000 refugees with a daily average of about 280 000 litres of water which they use for drinking and cooking, but also for personal hygiene. In the congested camp environment, washing hands, especially after using the latrine, is essential to prevent diarrheal and respiratory diseases. Instead of using polluting diesel generators, which also tend to break down, the environmentally friendly solar system has been successfully piloted by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), with funding from the European Commission. 

Patrick Okello, WASH Manager, NRC Kenya @NRC_HoA

Patrick Okello, WASH Manager, NRC Kenya @NRC_HoA

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