Measuring success in WASH: the tea indicator

By Eva Kaplan, Innovation Specialist, UNICEF Jordan

When you think of UNICEF, you probably don’t think of water networks and wastewater treatment plants. But in emergency settings—like the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan—there are often large populations located in places with no water and waste infrastructure, and ensuring that people have the water and sanitation facilities they need falls under UNICEF’s mandate.

The newly constructed borehole in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp started supplying water to the camp on 14 October 2015, and meets the water needs of the 26,000 Syrian refugees registered in the camp. This represents a major win for UNICEF and partners, as before this, water was transported more than 45 km at enormous huge cost, and with the associated concerns of water quality and frequent disruption to supply during bad weather.

But for those receiving the water, there is a more important metric of success: how does the water affect the taste of the tea (‘chai’)? For something as essential to everyday life, where important discussions take place over tea at all times during the day, the taste of the tea is of critical importance to the refugees as it determines their sense of “trust” in the water. Prior to the commissioning of the Azraq borehole, the refugees complained about the taste of the water, and since the operation of the new water source, the feedback from the refugees is that their tea is, in fact, delicious.

UNICEF ensures that all refugees have access to water. Photo: Eva Kaplan

Understanding the preferences of refugees is important to preserve human dignity. But preferences can drive the success of a project in other ways as well. The fact that in Azraq the refugees strongly prefer the internal water will be an important stabilising factor while transitioning to more cost-effective interventions. Such transitions are resisted by those who have vested interests in external tankering. In this case, the support of the refugees for the new camp borehole will strongly help negotiations with the water tanker drivers and can act as leverage. The tea indicator lets all parties know that this water source is strongly preferred by the refugees themselves.

The tea indicator thus provides an easy way to “take the pulse” of camp sentiment on water, and will be an important metric going forward—one that gets to the heart of how deeply humanitarian interventions influence the everyday lives of refugees.

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