The Sudanese proverb raises the question: Does the fool drown in his search for water or is he saved by it? And who is, in fact, this fool? Given the wasteful and unfair dealings of mankind with this dwindling resource – aren’t we all? While doing research on water, The Niles correspondents in South Sudan and Sudan met fishermen who deal carefully with the water that nourishes them and business people who exploit the resource without restraint. They report on conflicts around water but also on exemplary projects where water is shared peacefully. In short, the fool is still swimming, but for how long?
12 The Niles Juba’s deadly water Hostages of war and weather Rider on the storm Parasites, disease and even death are risks of drinking water from the Nile. Plagued by climate change and ethnic conflict, residents of South Sudan have no place to run. How a donkey helped a small-time water seller boost his business in hard times. Francis Michael | Juba Bonifacio Taban | Bentiu Joseph Nashion | Yambio T here are two groups of people in Juba: those who can afford to buy bottled water and those who cannot pay one Sudanese Pound (around US$ 0.34) per bottle. This second group therefore gets its water from the Nile, which is distributed to the population via water tankers. Drinking, bathing and cooking with Nile water, however, poses many health risks including diarrhoea, hepatitis A, bilharzia and cholera, according to Angelo Michael, a health officer specialised in preventive medicine. “I use the Nile water transported by tankers although I know well it is completely contaminated,” said Lucia Gumaa, a Juba resident, “but I have no other choice”. Human waste, pollution and acid rain Nile water is dirty for several reasons: First, hotels along the banks of the Nile illegally dump waste into the river. Municipal authorities arrested a number of hoteliers for dumping waste at night, especially during times of heavy rainfall, according to Kalisto Tombe, head of the Public Health department in Juba. “Hotels hope that rain will wash the dumped waste far away from the source of contamination,” he said. Secondly, even without human waste being dumped into it, the Nile has some of the most polluted water in the world, due to acid rain, which raises nitrogen levels, especially in the tropical regions characterised by abundant rainfall, said health officer Michael. For Juba citizens, the consequences are often fatal. “The number of people with diseases caused by the use of contaminated water, including cholera, diarrhoea and other afflictions, is very high,” a source who wishes to remain anonymous said, adding: “The government has reservations about releasing the statistics about these cases, but they do exist.” Up to 20 water-related cases are admitted into the hospital every day sources at the Juba Educational Hospital told The Niles. This year South Sudan witnessed yet another Cholera outbreak. World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines oblige countries to report the outbreak of the disease when 10 to 20 cholera cases occur. South Sudan’s government officially announced the outbreak of cholera in the country on June 23, 2015, following confirmed reports about 189 cholera cases and the death of 19 affected patients. The deadly disease can be avoided if specific guidelines are followed. The most important of these is using pure and disinfected water for drinking, cooking and washing. To this end, the Juba Municipality distributed chlorine disinfectant tablets to citizens and owners of water tankers, according to the Municipality’s Head of the Public Health Department, but he added that the difficulty in obtaining clean water in the city is due to poor planning and an inadequate public health budget. “The number of people with diseases caused by the use of contaminated water, including cholera, diarrhoea and other afflictions, is very high.” S outh Sudan’s Unity State may be flowing with oil, but a lack of rain has left its farmers in fear of their livelihoods. When the rain does fall, it pours down in torrents, flooding out desperate residents already displaced by conflict. “We have had very poor cultivation compared to any other year,” said Nhial Gatluak, a farmer from Payinjiar County. “Crops are dying due to a lack of rain (this year) and there will be an outbreak of hunger soon,” he said. Death by starvation or snake bite “Most of the crops have been destroyed by a lack of rain (from May to July),” said David Yoak, another resident of Payinjiar County. “And to be honest, I cannot tell you now that there will be no floods in August,” he said, adding that he had already heard predictions of hunger due to the lack of harvests. Since 2012 about 60,000 people have been displaced by floods in Payinjiar and Mayiandit Counties, more so than any other county in Unity State. In Mayiandit, the area in South Sudan most affected by floods – 40,000 have left their homes since 2012 – residents face the threat of poisonous snakes. “We have received about 41 cases of snake bites,” said Gabriel a health care nurse in Mayiandit. “We lost one patient, a child under five years, because of the floods. We don’t have enough antibiotics to manage such a case,” he said. Gabriel and his colleagues don’t have access to roads, so they are unable to refer patients to Leer or other locations for treatment. Natural disasters worsened by man-made ones Most of the areas heavily affected by previous floods have been vacated by residents due to ongoing conflicts between armed opposition forces allied to former Vice-President Riek Machar and those belonging to government forces associated to President Salva Kiir. “There is not enough rain this year, but most people don’t settle and plant their crops because the situation between the two warring parties keeps escalating,” added Nurse Gabriel. “Most people are on the run because they fear deadly ethnicity targeting,” he said. A s conflict has pushed more displaced people toward South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State, the price of water there has soared – from SSP 5 to SSP 7 (US$ 0.82 to US$ 1.15) per jerry can. But this is not bad news for everyone, especially 24-year-old water seller Fugoyo Johnson. “I don’t regret supplying water to the helpless and needy citizens in the city of Yambio because I know many have fled their homes during the recent conflicts in Mundri and Maridi,” he said. As demand increased, Johnson realised he could carry more water to more places with the help of a long-eared assistant. “I think by carrying around my water with the donkey, many people thought it was unhealthy,” he said. “But I calmed their doubts by washing my well-painted, 200-litre tank every day.” He now sells water to restaurant owners, offices and NGOs. Small supplier in the water business Fugoyo’s career distributing water started off humbly, with him using a bicycle to transport about ten 20-litre jerry cans per day. “It was tiresome pushing the bicycles up steep hills and it cost me to repair the bicycle,” he remembered. “One day I met a gentleman with a donkey and he advised me to use his animal to supply the water and he asked for SSP 15 (US$ 2.50) per day (to rent it).” A month later, Johnson said his mobile phone never stopped ringing. “The drum I use now takes about ten jerry cans so I make sure I empty about seven of the drum in a day,” he said. All Johnson has to do is feed the donkey well, which costs him about SSP 5 (US$ 0.82) for salt and corn, fetch the water then go around supplying his customers. Johnson admits that his means of transport is not the fastest, especially when the donkey is hungry or tired, but he earns enough to support his wife and daughter. “At times I think people are laughing at me and I worry what my daughter might think as she grows up, because I am dragging around an animal all day,” he said. “But when I get my money, I forget about all of these worries and I tell my brothers to see my example and work something out for themselves, rather than play cards along the market street.” Call a donkey! Water business in Yambio. Photo: Joseph Nashion theniles6_20151123.indd 12 2015/11/23 2:13 PM
The Niles 13 Did you know ... ...that the Sudanese Ministry of Agriculture has a Rain Department? Our correspondent, Adam Mohammed Ahmed, asked Sit el-Nafar Mohamed, Director of the Rain Department some very dry questions. The Zeer is an affordable and safe way to filter water. Photo: Hadia Elias Adam Mohammed Ahmed | Khartoum So, Ms. Sit el-Nafar Mohamed, what is the forecast for the rainy season? Rain forecasts actually come from the Meteorological Agency. States monitor rainfall through several meteorological stations and inform us every week. And what exactly does your department do? Coordinating between the Ministry of Agriculture and state ministries of agriculture through field visits, meetings, conferences and reports, providing ministries with technical support through distributing improved seeds to small rain-fed farmers, incorporating states’ plans into one plan; providing funding and gasoline, fertilisers and pesticides. Also, we monitor the agricultural season. Sounds like a tough job. There is a lack of timely information owing to poor data collection by the states. They use traditional methods to survey the areas. The Department of Rain aims to apply modern technology to boost productivity and production using mechanisation, improved seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and water harvesting. We also plan to use modern methods in surveying areas and collecting data. Have you taken a rain check this year? The rainfall started late this year, but it has improved in major agricultural states during August and we hope that it will last until October. Last autumn’s rainfall was above average. Last question: Can you drop a line about what that might mean for local agriculture. Yes, by applying water harvesting systems which vary depending on the environment. They include excavations, earth dams and reservoirs, applying zero tillage and other technologies that save water in soil and by introducing new crops. Need clean water? Check out the Zeer pot. Recommended by households throughout the country for centuries. Hadia Elias | Khartoum I t is unclear when the tradition of zeer pots first emerged. Some say the tradition was introduced by the Arabs, while others say it dates back to the ancient Nubian civilisation. And it is showing no sign of dying out: Zeer pots are still a firm fixture in many contemporary Sudanese homes. “We percolate water in zeer pots to get desalinated clean healthy water,” said 50-year-old housewife Fatima Khalifa. “Water extracted from pits is often salty and river water is dirty and full of silt. Even with the advanced technology of piped water, we still rely on this method since it is easy and secure.” The geometric shape of zeer pots feeds the water through a porous clay filter which extracts impurities and salts. Clean water percolates through and is collected in containers placed under the zeer. Abdel Nasser Mahmoud, who researches water purification, said companies have adopted and adapted the zeer tradition. “Water purification companies have benefited from the pottery’s characteristics to create their own pottery filters, adding some new materials and little adjustments.” Many Sudanese still favour the traditional zeer pot to store drinking water as it stays cool even in hot Sudanese temperatures. Water which has percolated through to the bottom of the zeer is widely used for cooking, making hot drinks, washing and cleaning groceries as well as drinking. It is even considered clean enough for new born babies. theniles6_20151123.indd 13 2015/11/23 2:13 PM