- Drinking water access at the Saharawi refugee camps (Algerian desert) was assessed.
- Risk of microbial Contamination of water storage tanks was medium-high on average.
- Raw water with high levels of fluoride is still used directly by two refugee camps.
- Pending issues: treated water for all, monitoring, adequate storage and maintenance.
- Potential health impact associated to water quality should be further studied.
Drinking water access in the Saharawi refugee camps located in the Algerian desert is a challenge that is still an on-going problem after 40years of conflict. This work presents an analysis of the situation with emphasis on the water supply in health institutions (quantity and quality) including both sanitary inspections and a comprehensive water quality study. Results from sanitary inspections show that only half of the water supply installations at the hospitals are in adequate conditions and the rest present high risk of microbiological contamination. Water access in small medical community centres on the other hand present issues related to the non-availability of food-grade water tanks for the institutions (70%), the use of small 10l containers as the main water supply (40%), poor maintenance (60% under antihygienic conditions and 30% with damaged covers), and insufficient chlorine levels that prevent microbiological contamination. Regarding water quality analyses, raw water supply in Smara, El Aiun and Awserd camps present high conductivity and high levels of fluoride, chloride, nitrate and sulphate, but dropping to normal levels within the drinking-water standards after water treatment via reverse osmosis plants. But for the case of El Aiun and Awserd, the reverse osmosis plant only provides treated water to the population each 20days, so the population receives raw water directly and health risks should be evaluated. Finally, Dakhla water supply is the best in terms of physico-chemical parameters quality, currently providing safe drinking water after a chlorination stage. In summary, drinking water access has improved dramatically in the last years due to the efforts of local and international authorities but several issues remain to be solved: access to treated water for all the population, improved water quality controls (especially in Dakhla), expansion of distribution networks, and adequate storage systems and maintenance.
*Original abstract online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969716301139?via%3Dihub