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?
81m 3 Renewable freshwater resources per capita* Sudan: * year 2013, source: The World Bank Nubian holy water From baptisms to marriages, ritual cleansing with Nile water has a long standing in Nubian culture. Samia Ibrahim | Khartoum P eople of the Nubian regions, north of Sudan, sanctify the Nile and consider it the giver of life, fertility, happiness and prosperity. Since the birth of the early Sudanese civilisations, such as the Kerma culture, (which began around 3000 BC), man has found that his life within these communities is linked to the Nile. Dependence on this great river is related to a number of customs, traditions and rituals associated with the various stages of life itself. Shafouqa Abdul Rahman Dahab, an archeologist interested in Nubian heritage, said the rituals practiced by her family in Wadi Halfa city in northern Sudan are concerned with marriage, birth and circumcision. “Two days ahead of the marriage ceremony, the bride goes to the Nile to wash her face, while the bridegroom goes there on his wedding day to bathe. Afterwards, the actual wedding preparations are arranged,” she explained and added that on the seventh day after the wedding, the bride and bridegroom walk to the Nile to wash their face and feet with its water. Sacraments and rites of passage In the Sukut and Mahas districts and in some areas near Dongola, mothers take their newborns to the Nile at sunset and wash their faces as well as the faces of their newborn babies with the Nile’s water. They fill seven containers with Nile water to irrigate seven small palm trees to invoke bounty and happiness. All babies’ items used to clean their newborns are thrown to the Nile. A quantity of cooked chickpeas is prepared some of which are eaten by the riverside while the remaining quantity is thrown along with the baby’s items. In certain areas of the Nile between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum, mothers have to stay indoors for 40 days after their delivery. On the 40th day, the mother takes her newborn to the Nile and washes the infant in accordance with the adopted ritual. Local inhabitants in the Nubian regions believe that women who disregard this ritual will be afflicted with all types of evil. Women carrying palm branches and singing folk songs accompany the mothers. The newborns’ mothers wash their hands, feet and face as well the face and feet of their babies. Meanwhile, the accompanying women ululate in joy after the rituals are completed. When a boy is circumcised, he is taken to the Nile on the same day to wash his face with the Nile’s water. This ritual is similar to baptism performed by Christians for their newborn children. According to the book entitled ‘Discovery of Ancient Nuba History’ by Giovanni Fantini, these rituals still exist in Nuba areas in northern Sudan and Darfur in the west. These rituals testify to Nubians’ Christian past. The priest of Two Martyrs Church, father Velothaos Faraj said a number of customs in Nuba districts are regarded as remnants of Christianity which existed in the Nubian regions between the sixth and the sixteenth centuries. These customs continued after the advent of Islam, including those that were associated with the river Nile. “The Nile is a sacred river to all Nuba population and they turn to it for renewed life,” he added. Faraj also said there are customs linked to the start of married life where the bride’s procession goes to the Nile to take some water from the blessed river. The groom as well visits the river and then the marriage procedures are consummated. Manal Saleh, a mother of two, said she followed these rituals when she gave birth to her children. “Despite the changes of lifestyles at present, these rituals are still followed in the Nubian villages and rural areas located north and east of Sudan.” When the well runs dry They can see the water source and they even pay their water bills, but residents of Nyala are thirsty. Abdelrahman Ibrahim | Nyala D ecades of conflict have left vital infrastructure in short supply and residents of Nyala, South Darfur State, frequently in search of water. Every year the crisis peaks during the four-month-long summer – the northern districts are hit hardest. Most of Nyala’s houses lack water mains, a fact the former Governor of South Darfur Adam Mahmoud Jar El-Nabi blames on absent pipes. “The network was subject to some renovation and the first phase related to street pipes was completed. However, the second phase of running pipes inside the houses has yet to be completed,” he said during a press conference this past June. Water carried on carriages and tankers tour Nyala neighbourhoods to sell water barrels to the inhabitants of those areas who don’t have access to a public water supply. The price of a barrel of water costs SDG 25 (about US$ 4). Most Nyala city residents do not receive a monthly salary and their incomes vary from one month to the next, making this a steep sum to pay. Even for employees whose monthly incomes range between SDG 700 and 900 (nearly US$ 116 and 150), it is challenging to cover the monthly water costs of large families – somewhere between US$ 124 and 240 per month. Salaried family members often split the bill. “Drinking water has become pricier than cooking gas,” said Mohammed Abdallah, from Al-Matar District. And even those families living in neighbourhoods with public water supply pipes, regular water shortages have prompted them to dig wells and use the autumn water streams. T Confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, near Khartoum Photo: De Agostini / N. Cirani, gettyimages theniles6_20151123.indd 4 2015/11/23 2:13 PM
A halt in the water doesn’t stop the water bill from coming The crisis has come about for many reasons – the armed conflict in the region being a major factor. As a result, state finances have been pumped into security, leading to the neglect of much-needed infrastructure. “The problem of water in Nyala is huge and cannot be fully resolved since it is a problem that has roots in previous governments,” said former Governor Jar El-Nabi. Even the few lucky people who have access to water pipes in their homes are suffering. Ahmed Saeed, who lives in the Al-Sad Al-Aaly District said he has water pipes in his house, but “since summer, water has been supplied only once. The water supply authority still collects water charges every month.” Water supply halts during the four summer months due to the lack of ground water in the city, according to Nyala’s former Commissioner, Surur Ahmed Abdallah. “The city depends on the water from Burley Valley whose water starts to deplete in the beginning of January of each year,” he said. Hope in a basin The former commissioner added that the local government, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources and the Environment, had searched for new water sources in the locality but failed to locate any alternatives. “The solution will only come through the autumn rainfall or the implementation of the Baggara Basin project,” Abdallah explained, referring to water supply. The Baggara Basin is located in the Gereida area, about 80 kilometres to the south of Nyala. Planning for the project started in the 1960s but was never implemented. In 2008, a number of contracts were drawn up with a Chinese company to construct the basin in return for oil. However, with South Sudan’s independence in 2011 and abandonment of the former deal on oil guarantees, the Chinese company gave up and the project was suspended. New contracts were signed with Egyptian, United Arab Emirates and Sudanese contractors to implement the project in 2014 and it was anticipated that the project would be completed by the end of 2016. Urban Planning Minister in South Darfur State El-Tayyeb Hamad Abu Rida said all formalities were completed and the companies involved in the implementation of the project were issued with the required guarantees. If the minster’s expectations are realised, Nyala will be able to cover about 40 percent of its water needs. The remaining 60 percent will likely be covered by the Rimaliyeh Dam, north of the city, and Bulbul Dam, southeast of Nyala. These two dams have since stopped working due to a lack of funding. The overall cost of the Baggara Basin project and the two dams amounts to SDG 100 million (nearly US$ 17 million), according to a number of Sudanese press websites. Seven years of thirst While they wait on these projects, locals continue their daily struggle for water. Nyala resident Hawa Abdelrahman said she uses the autumn rain water for drinking and cooking, unaware of the dangers it may pose to her health. Many others continue to pay their monthly water bill without getting any water. Yagoub Adam who lives in the Al-Wahda District, south of Nyala, said he has been thirsty on and off for seven years even though he lives within a quarter of a kilometre of the water source. Adam paid his SDG 25 (US$ 4) monthly water bill without having a water mains connection. He finally decided to stop paying, but the incurred charges have accumulated to SDG 300 (US$ 49). “The water supply authority discussed the issue with us and convinced us that water would be supplied soon. Thus, we paid the accumulated charges to no avail,” Adam said. “We have seen no water and we are still thirsty.” Protecting an insecure resource Kassala is struggling to safeguard its water reserves, but the demand usually reaches far beyond the supply. Hamid Ibrahim | Kassala T he Gash River Basin supplies water to Kassala city in eastern Sudan, but wells are drying up as the swelling population and agriculture use up precious water, leaving officials debating how to avoid thirst, desertification, and aridity. Kassala city and its rural areas depend on the Gash River’s groundwater reserve which flows from the Eritrean highlands and is known as the Gash River Basin. This aquifer, or underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, extends almost 50 kilometres into the Sudanese territory in the border village of Laffa, following the river downstream near the Gash Delta. Kassala and its neighbouring areas including Aroma, Makali, Wad Sharifi and Wagar are reliant on the basin for their water supply, according to Engineer Mohamed Abdel Hay, Head of the Groundwater and Valleys Authority in Kassala State, under the Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity. But this water source is increasingly erratic. The water level sunk in recent years, affected by a sharp rise in population and unregulated agriculture. The amount of water flowing into the basin every year is estimated at 98 million cubic metres, which fails to keep pace with an estimated annual consumption of 174 million cubic metres. Abdel Hay explained that in some years decline reached a low record of seven metres, or 8 million cubic metres, imperilling the local access to water. “More than 60 wells completely dried up last summer,” he said. A council of water users The Niles 5 This drought season was followed by strong rains in autumn which caused a rare 20-millioncubic-metre boost in the water reserves. But experts were aware that this unusual event was unlikely to recur in the near future. “So we decided to sound the alarm and suggested a number of urgent solutions,” Abdel Hay said. The Groundwater and Valleys Authority in Kassala proposed a number of solutions including the creation of a canal from the Setit River, about 100 kilometres away, to help recharge the renewable aquifer. Another solution was to replenish the main aquifer through the creation of large basins which would store river water during the season when the river flows, thus helping provide more water for the main aquifer. The authority also said it was necessary to form a council composed of all concerned parties. Adding to the pressure on water is the fact that Kassala’s horticulture extends more than 600 kilometres, making it the largest area of horticultural cultivation in Sudan. Experts say this water-intensive land use could be rationalised by concentrating on crops, which require just small quantities of water or, by introducing modern irrigation technologies, including so-called pivot and drip irrigation systems. The union of fruit and vegetable farmers in Kassala State are trying to end widespread wastage of precious water, according to Kerar Sayed Ahmed, the Union’s Secretary. “As a union we signed agreements with Kassala’s state banks to provide the needed loans for farmers to enable them use of modern irrigation systems,” he explained, adding that the union is launching awareness programmes aimed at educating people about the best ways to use the Gash River groundwater reserves. Yet despite having referred these proposals to the Kassala State government and the Federal Ministry for Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Abdel Hay said he had not yet received any response. He feared that the Groundwater and Valleys Authority’s ideas to prevetn a regional water shortage would remain a pipe dream for the foreseeable future. theniles6_20151123.indd 5 2015/11/23 2:13 PM
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