The Struggle for Water Continues
Ikhtiyar Aslanov, head of the water assistance programme for the ICRC in Sudan, shares his thoughts on World Water Day.
Water is the source of life, the basic ingredient that we all need to survive. In regions where harsh climatic conditions prevail, the struggle for water is often one and the same with the struggle for life. Likewise, the struggle to access water is often the main preoccupation of entire communities in regions where conflict is raging. The consequences of conflict can deny people even their most basic survival needs such as food, healthcare and water and can also mean large displacements of people which create unbearable pressures on already-fragile resources.
It is such issues that are tackled on a daily basis by a humanitarian organization like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which works to reduce the suffering caused by war and to provide the basic needs for survival to people caught up in conflict. Today, which is known as World Water Day, is a time to remind ourselves of the need to improve both water quality and access – a time to remember that access to the life-giving properties of water is not a possibility for much of the world's population. It is estimated for instance, that right now in Africa, some 300 million people lack access to safe water. This is mainly due to poverty, conflict or climatic conditions – often it is a combination of all three.
In Sudan, a significant portion of the ICRC's resources is allocated to ensuring that people affected by conflict – be they resident or displaced communities – have access to sufficient quantities of safe drinking water. In Darfur, where the majority of the ICRC's operation is focused in 2006, this means improving water access and quality for over 1.6m people. Increasingly, it also involves the provision of water for the livestock of rural communities. Livestock is the very backbone of the Darfur economy and as such must also be safeguarded from lack of access to water – for, without their livestock, rural families lose their livelihoods, worsening their predicament.
As head of the ICRC's water programme in Sudan I would like to share with you on this World Water Day, some of the main challenges we face today in Darfur. They are:
• The dry season is making water scarce and displacement of the population (and their livestock) puts additional pressure on the water points of host communities, causing frequent breakdown of infrastructure.
• The protracted conflict is adversely affecting the communities ability to contribute to the operation and maintenance of the water points, as their overall economic situation deteriorates (for example, many cannot afford to pay for water as was the case before the conflict).
• Access to areas where there are immense water needs is restricted due to continuing insecurity as well as logistical difficulties (this affects state water authorities as well as humanitarian agencies).
• The communities (especially in remote and rural areas) are struggling to maintain their water points because they have difficulty to access main markets for spare parts.
• The majority of equipment in the water yards is old and obsolete, with no spare parts available in the market, which is why rehabilitation in most of the cases means a compete replacement of the system, increasing the cost and effort.
• The need and struggle for water in Darfur is non-discriminatory, that is, it is felt by many. Specifically, needs are growing in rural areas among both nomadic and farming communities and the ICRC, along with other organizations, is working hard just to address the basic, emergency needs.
It is important to note that in ICRC every effort is made to rehabilitate and repair existing water points and facilities as opposed to building new systems which might not be sustainable. In this way, we support the responsible authorities (and do not substitute them) and also ensure that traditional water-distributions systems that existed before the conflict remain in place, thereby avoiding additional competition for resources.
At the end of this article you will find a summary of the main achievements that the ICRC water department carried out in Darfur in 2005. The focus remains as intense and urgent in 2006. Much has been done and no doubt a positive difference has been made to the daily lives of many Darfuris affected by the conflict. However, much remains to be done and let's hope that for World Water Day next year we have better news to share.
Head of ICRC Water Programme, Sudan
Khartoum – 22 March 2006
Table summarizing water-related services provided by the ICRC in Darfur in 2005
Type of Activity Quantity Number of settlements Number of beneficiaries*
1 IDP camp water supply 06 6 167'000
2 Hand pump repair 459 324 344'250
3 Shallow well protection & cleaning 67 42 33'500
4 Water Yard rehabilitation 57 44 399'000
5 Town network upgrade, support to UWC 7 7 715'000
TOTAL Beneficiaries 596 423 1'658'750
*The beneficiary figures (that is, persons benefiting from the assistance) were calculated based on averages, except for IDP camps and town networks, where population figures are taken from the authorities (or camp management). For instance, it is observed that in Darfur one hand pump is used by more than 750 people; shallow well is used on average by 500 people, whereas number of beneficiaries per water yard is calculated to be at 7'000 people (usually water yards are used by clusters of settlements or villages).