The East African Standard (Nairobi)
Posted to the web November 9, 2005
By Alex Diang'a
The signing of the historic peace accord in Nairobi by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), not only brought an end to Africa's longest running civil war, but also opened up the country for provision of services.
While decades of insecurity restricted access to address the needs of the people of southern Sudan, especially those who were in areas controlled by the SPLM/A, factional fighting, militia violence against civilians, and the lack of roads and bridges further weakened the communities' ability to improve services.
Social and economic infrastructure not destroyed by the 21-year-old war was ruined by lack of investment and maintenance.
But as the more than two million internally displaced people expected to return to their areas of origin start arriving back, the pressure on the most sought resource-water-is beginning to be felt, worsening the already bad situation.
It is widely reported that up to half of the hand pumps in south Sudan no longer function and only 25 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water. One out of every four children dies before reaching age five and nearly half of those deaths are caused by water-related diseases.
But as communities look forward to getting clean water in different parts of southern Sudan, the people of Ayod in Upper Nile, unlike millions of their counterparts, have something to rejoice about. A local Community Based Organisation, Sudanese Women in Development and Peace (Swidap), has teamed up with Pact's Sudan County Program, a non-governmental organisation supporting local Sudanese CBOs to provide water to the people of Ayod.
Through grants from United States Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the Water for Recovery And Peace Program aims to improve access to sustainable, safe water for rural communities in Sudan.
For many years, the hand dug boreholes that were available to the residents of Ayod were not only few but malfunctioning and contaminated. As a result, many people ended up contracting water-related diseases.
"It is not strange to see people limping in this community because of infections from guinea worm. Many people have been infected with Guinea worms and other related water borne diseases," says John Mayel Tiek, acting commissioner of Ayod County.
"When it all started, I thought the pain would go away, but it persisted and eventually it turned out to be Guinea worm. Look at where one came out from," says Gabriel Tut, a young man who decided to move to his home in Ayod from Khartoum after the signing of the peace agreement, pointing at a wound on his feet.
Guinea worm is a parasitic worm infection that occurs mainly in Africa. According to Unicef, Sudan is the world's largest reservoir of the disease, with 70 per cent of the 35,000 cases provisionally reported in 2003.
People get infected when they drink stagnant water containing a tiny water flea that is infected with the even tinier larvae of the Guinea worm. Once inside the human body, the larvae mature, growing as long as three feet. After a year, the worm emerges through a painful blister in the skin, causing long-term suffering and sometimes crippling after-effects.
Infection by Guinea worm can be avoided, even in areas where the disease is common, by using filtered water or water from boreholes.
"When we started using borehole water, the incidences of the disease went down. Most of the people you see now with the disease are those who contracted it before this project took off," says Mayel.
But it is not only the water-related diseases that have been troubling the people of Ayod. "The scarcity of water in this community has led to conflicts for many years. While women have been forced to trek long distances to search for water, men have been fighting over the little water available," says James Tutyian Koang, the water team leader of Swidap.
"Before boreholes were dug and rehabilitated in this area, there were too many people struggling for very little water, leading to conflicts. The conflicts did not only involve verbal exchanges, but ended up in killings. It's unfortunate that after we lost many of our people in the war, others should die because of water," regrets Mayel.
"But it's encouraging that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. It has enabled NGOs to come and provide us with water leading to a reduction in conflict and water-borne diseases," says Mayel, nodding his head.
"The good thing is that with the new boreholes, water is plenty. We can now bath and drink water as and when we like. We are also able to concentrate on other activities instead of spending most of our time mediating over people who have fought and killed each other over water," says the Mayel.
According to Pact, the provision of community boreholes is essential to implementing sustainable local-level peace initiatives. As southern Sudan begins the delicate-but-hopeful transition to peace, it is critical that basic services reach all the people.
In spite of being better than some areas in southern Sudan, the water problem in Ayod is far from over. While one borehole is meant to cater for 250 persons according to international standards, the numbers served by one of borehole can be more than 400 households (2,400 persons) in most places as the population of the returnees increases.
"If the boreholes are not managed well, we will still end up fighting," says Koang, the water team leader. "But even with good management, more boreholes are needed in this area to cater for the swelling number of returnees," he cautions.