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Life-saving choices for South Sudan

By Peter Wooding

Imagine if your home was bombed and you suddenly had to flee for your life with your family. How would you feel? You leave everything you have behind in the midst of conflict and walk for days in the intense heat and dangerous terrain. When you finally arrive in an already overcrowded community, you and your family are faced with further challenges.

That’s the harsh reality for thousands of people like Angelina, who together with her family of ten children, have been moved into a camp for internally displaced persons in Abiemnhom County, South Sudan. On the brink of starvation and living in a conflict zone in the north, she was forced to bring her family to this camp in search of a better life.

Before the war her life was good, she had clean water and food from the land; but the Sudanese conflict has left Angelina and her family with no home, no food and no clean water.

Now she must walk for six hours in intense heat on dangerous terrain to collect dirty water from a river. She risks being attacked and beaten on each journey. Needless to say, the dirty water she brings back makes her family sick.

Along with 4,000 other internally displaced people, Angelina initially resettled in the main town in Abiemnhom but, with resources already stretched to capacity, the local authorities had to move them on. What is more, this isn’t a purpose-built camp. Each person and family, however young or old, had to construct their own homes.

When you have been bombed out of your home and travelled many miles, and with no permanent place to stay, to then be moved out of town and have to build your own home from scratch is heartbreaking.

But life at the camp has its own difficulties. Angelina had no choice but to come here, to a place of relative safety, hoping for something better. The conditions she faces, without clean, safe water, are just as dangerous as she faced back at home.

“People are being admitted to hospital; they are getting sick from cholera and suffering with diarrhoea because of the dirty water they are drinking. Now we become tired from walking such long distances; it’s very hard.”

On top of the exhaustion of walking so far for water, Angelina has to try to earn a living for her family which involves hard physical labour, cultivating land by clearing gardens and cutting down trees.

Angelina and her family are some of the 170,000 people in Unity State who are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty due to the conflict.

 

The world’s newest country

In 2011, South Sudan became the newest country in the world. Initial euphoria was short-lived as continual conflict made an already bad situation far worse.

In 2014/15, South Sudan was ranked as the world’s most fragile country and is currently a level-3 emergency (the UN’s highest crisis possible).

With an estimated 55,000 internally displaced people across Mayom and Abiemnhom counties in Unity State alone, overcrowding and overuse of hand pumps has led to one-third of existing wells breaking down.

Many who have walked up to three hours to get to a hand pump will find that wait times have increased to between one and two hours due to overcrowding. Fights often break out at overcrowded wells and consequently, for their safety and out of desperation, people default to a dirty water source close to their community.

 

No other choice but dirty water

Mary has been living with her husband and six children in a village in Mayam County for the past ten years. She lives with the constant challenge of looking after her family with access only to dirty water from a dried-up river nearby.

To get access to the water, they dig a hole until they reach water. The water is filthy, yet they drink it, cook with it and use it for washing – they have no other choice!

Not only does it look and taste revolting, but it’s ridden with bacteria, it makes them sick, and it could kill them.

Mary, who is also seven months pregnant, has to do this back-breaking chore three times a day.

Mary’s family are constantly ill because of the dirty water: “All of my family keep getting waterborne diseases like diarrhoea and typhoid. We also get eye infections and skin rashes. These diseases and problems keep occurring in our community.

“To get treatment, the hospital is very far from here … and we waste a lot of time travelling there. We have to leave the children behind on their own as there is no one to take care of them.”

 

The impact of dirty water

Dirty water kills 315,000 children every year from diarrhoeal diseases and takes the life of a newborn baby every minute from waterborne infection.*

Globally one in ten people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. But in Mayom County, South Sudan, the situation is far worse: seven out of ten people don’t have access to clean water.**

79% of people living in Mayom County indicated that surface water was their main source of drinking water, often shared with animals. ***

93% of respondents are defecating in the bush. When the rains come, animal and human faeces mix in with the surface water that the people are drinking. ***

 

Samaritan’s Purse brings life-saving solutions

In the midst of all this, relief and development charity Samaritan’s Purse is responding to the challenge by providing clean water to communities in 11 developing countries.

In 2015, thanks to the generosity of donors and partners, Samaritan’s Purse helped over 425,000 people in 14 countries gain access to clean, safe water; constructed or repaired 121 wells; placed over 8,800 Biosand water filters in people’s homes; trained more than 95,000 people in good hygiene and sanitation practices; and built over 5,500 toilets.

In 2014, thanks to the generosity of donors and partners, Samaritan’s Purse helped over 430,000 people gain access to clean, safe water; constructed or repaired 75 wells; placed over 7,000 Biosand water filters in people’s homes; trained more than 100,000 people in good hygiene and sanitation practices; and built over 14,000 toilets.

In 2016, Samaritan’s Purse wants to provide clean water to over 35,000 people living in Abiemnhom and Mayom counties in Unity State, South Sudan, who currently have no choice but to drink dirty water. In partnership with local communities they will rehabilitate over 70 hand pump wells and, where funds allow, drill new wells.

 

Building on firm foundations

Samaritan’s Purse has two decades of programming experience in South Sudan. This is invaluable in bringing about positive change for desperate populations even amid conflict.

Because Samaritan’s Purse has its own drilling rig and large-scale logistics capacity, including air fleet, it is uniquely placed to bring clean, safe water to those who need it in remote and inaccessible locations, of which there are many in South Sudan.

 

Providing clean water for life

Samaritan’s Purse is committed to providing 70 sustainable functioning wells in South Sudan that have the right support structures in place to ensure that clean water can flow.

Samaritan’s Purse will achieve all this by:

  1. Providing training for 47 community hand pump mechanics who will cover all 70 wells.
  2. Carrying out water quality testing twice a year to ensure the water is not contaminated in any way.
  3. Training 70 water User Committees (nine members per committee, 630 in total) in water management and health/safe-keeping around the wells.
  4. Training 70 Health and Hygiene Committees (nine members per committee, 630 in total) who will, in turn, ensure local communities adopt best practice hygiene and sanitation behaviours.
  5. Implementing 70 jerry can campaigns to serve all 35,000 beneficiaries. This will focus on weekly jerry can cleaning and improving sanitation around water points.

 

The fundraising challenge

Samaritan’s Purse needs your help to help raise £525,000 between 1 April and 30 June 2016, to rehabilitate and drill 70 wells and provide life-changing clean water for the people of Abiemnhom and Mayom counties. On average it will cost £7,500 to rehabilitate or install a new well.

The life-transforming impact of this will include:

  1. Giving the children and adults of South Sudan the precious choice of drinking clean water from a functioning well nearby.
  2. Enabling mums to go to work knowing their children are healthy and safe at school.
  3. Stopping the horror and fear of sexual attack upon women and girls walking long distances to collect safe, clean water and at the same time encouraging young girls to fulfil their dream of getting an education, rather than spending their days walking for water.
  4. Freeing mums to spend time at home feeding and caring for their children rather than waiting in long queues for water – thus decreasing the risk of malnutrition.
  5. Building the skills of local people by teaching households good sanitation practices, giving communities knowledge of how to look after their wells, and ultimately giving them access to clean water for a lifetime.

 

A recipe for disaster

During a recent trip to an Internally Displaced Camp in Unity State in South Sudan, Samaritan’s Purse UK head of Programmes and Projects, Chris Blackham, observed how it was on the brink of a disaster of epidemic proportions: “All around me I can see there is limited opportunity for people to grow their own food, so they are going to have issues of malnutrition. When you have issues of malnutrition as well as a lack of clean water and poor sanitation, it is a recipe for disaster. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few months’ time there are cholera outbreaks here [at the camp], and people are suffering severe health problems.”

The choice is clear – together we can Turn On The Tap for thousands of people in South Sudan. To get involved visit turnonthetap.org.uk

*WHO/UNICEF 2014/15

**WHO/UNICEF JMP 2015

***Samaritan’s Purse baseline survey for Mayom County, February 2015