Role Playing Hightlights Humanitarian Challenges

Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for East Africa, is currently attending a Sphere training in Nairobi, Kenya. She briefly explains field challenges in this post.

Today was eye-opening. After learning about the minimum standards for each sector—water and sanitation, food, shelter and health—as well as measurable indicators to assess attainment, it was time to try to put the standards into practice.

Arbor Loo

Separate sanitation facilities for men and women are critical for health and security during emergencies. The facilities also allow for privacy, as in this camp in Eldoret at the Eldoret faigrounds in Kenya. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS.

Workshop leaders provided us with a real-world scenario: the current situation of a camp housing 2,700 people displaced by years of violence in Somalia. These displaced people live on private land. Unlike at other camps nearby, the residents don’t have to pay rent, but the land owner demands that they purchase household supplies from his shop. Water is trucked in, and four tents serve as UNICEF classrooms. The most pressing problem is a lack of toilets, as the landlord doesn’t want latrines built on his land.

We took on the roles of the displaced people, the landlord, government agents and aid workers trying to assist. Conversation was spirited as each group of stakeholders shared their opinions. Coming up with initial actions was far from easy—and this was in a classroom setting.

The aid workers explained the health and security risks of having no latrines, particularly for women at night. They also noted that any toilets built could be removed and pits filled in once the displaced people left the land. The landlord might also want to keep the latrines in the future to attract future renters—even though the camp will likely be in place for a long time to come.

In our fictional discussion, the aid workers’ arguments were convincing enough to change the landlord’s mind. But to meet minimum Sphere standards of 20 people per latrine, 135 temporary toilets need to be built. We convinced the landlord to start with 20 latrines—a small victory in a large crisis and a sobering reflection of the challenges of achieving suggested guidelines.

Tomorrow we are visiting a water and sanitation project in central Kenya. It should be interesting to hear the community’s thoughts about the intervention and to see Sphere standards in action.

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