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IOM, JICA build skyscraper-depth well to bring clean water to Rohingya refugees

  • Published at 07:55 pm May 18th, 2019
File photo of Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The well, pump and an automated chlorination plant are all powered by solar energy

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and partner Japan International Development Agency (JICA) have built a skyscraper-depth well to bring clean water to nearly a million Rohingya refugees in cramped settlements in Cox’s Bazar.

The recently completed well is located in Camp 12, just miles from Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, and is set to come online in May. It is over three football fields in depth, and the digging required a 20-ton drill shipped from abroad, according to an IOM press release. 

The drilling pushed under an initial 100m or so of potentially contaminated water, and then into a web of aquifers – subterranean pools trapped for thousands of years untouched by surface contaminants, it added.

The well includes a powerful pump to get water to the surface, as well as an automated chlorination plant. Both are powered by 187 solar panels installed by IOM, which generate 61kW of electricity. Six 95,000-litre storage tanks allow for gravity-fed distribution to inhabitants, and 30,000 residents of the camp are expected to benefit.

Because aquifers are sandwiched between impermeable rock, some are highly pressurised and others pressure-neutral. The WASH team used sensors to analyse pressure at different aquifers to determine locations where water could be forced into the well pipe. They then installed “screens,” or holes at defined locations to allow free flow. Now complete, the well pipe taps more than a dozen aquifer hits on its nearly half-mile journey.

In the press release, IOM Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team Program Manager Alessandro Petrone said: “One small hand pump can deliver water for 250 people, so this is like having 120 pumps. It is also a centralised system that offers complete reliability in chlorination. You do not need to station people at each pump to provide chlorine.”

Petrone, who has overseen projects in Latin America, Lebanon and Somalia, also said well tapping the Tipam Sandstone Aquifer in Cox’s Bazar is his biggest yet. “This is the largest in terms of litres per hour, length of pipes, solar power installed, number of panels, and water storage. The size of the hole is huge – it’s the size of a skyscraper when you think about it. And with the solar panels – there’s no electricity bill.”

After the project comes online in a few weeks, IOM will work with Dhaka University to chart the area’s geology with a view to better support managing the Tipam Sandstone Aquifer. An open source, online map has already been produced to help with future research, monitoring and rationalization of the available resources to the Rohingya but also to the host communities of the area.

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