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?
2302m 3 Renewable freshwater resources per capita* South Sudan: * year 2013, source: The World Bank Sudd swamps stretching eastward towards the White Nile River in Lake State, South Sudan Photo: Mike D. Kock, gettyimages T The element of blessings Two old men, one from the Azande and another from the Muru ethnicity, recall how water was once a sacred aspect of their communities. Joseph Nashion | Yambio T o encourage my brothers and me to do well in school, our family poured water into our mouths and over our hands and heads,” remembered 79-year-old Yaba Kisra. “I used to like that.” This was just one of many water rituals practiced by the Azande ethnic group to which Kisr belongs, in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State. “Women’s feet were washed when they were welcomed to the house of their chosen husband,” he said of another tradition. “Back then we went to the source of the river where people worshipped under big trees, praying for the rain to pour. Songs were sung around the river source so that their gods heard and people danced, too. Within a short while, it would start to pour down.” The Azande, a large ethnic group which spans the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, parts of South Sudan and southeast of the Central African Republic, would also make sacrifices to secure future rainfall. “If, after worship, there was no sign of rain for a long time, they would gather everyone together and agree upon which sacrifices would be best to offer,” Kisra said, adding that the elders would often sacrifice goats at the river’s source. Water also played a role in solving conflict amongst community members. Those involved in the dispute would take water in their mouths and spread down on the floor as a sign of forgiveness to each other. “It was a must,” said Kisr. “The two parties were asked to come and take some water and spread down, saying: ‘I have forgiven you’. They were to say this from the bottom of their heart, without hiding anything. It was known that such communications were directly with the gods, which reduced hatred to a minimal level,” Kisra explained. “We were not able to hate each other because the gods and our ancestors walked along with the people to make sure people lived in harmony and I think the spirit has continued among the Azandes,” he said, “although it has faded.” Water in times of war Known as warriors, the Azandes would wait at the water point to fend off any enemy and prevent them from entering their community. This approach was similar among many communities of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria State. Silivano Kuu, an elderly man who hails from the nearby Muru community, said his people built barriers around the river sources where they believed their god was to be found. “In this way,” said Kuu, “we could strengthen ourselves and defeat our enemy.” Bodies of water formed a focal point for his community, which gathered the ancestors around the river or well when they prepared for war. A place of respect “Around the river we also celebrated marriage ceremonies and the couple spread water onto the new house as a blessing,” Kuu said. But despite the water’s charms it was also meant to be respected. “In the past, my people respected rivers and wells so much that we never allowed children to throw water or play about at the water source,” Kuu said. The Muru community interpreted sporadic floods or extended rains as a message that they should respect the area and accept that is was not meant for human activities, Kuu said. They heeded such warnings and took all their activities away from the areas suffering from flooding. “Elders never allowed women and children to cross around those points because they would either disappear or die in the water,” Kuu recalled. Pregnant women were not allowed to fetch water after five thirty in the afternoon because they believed she would deliver a child with disability. Kuu explained that the Muru also had rain makers. They never wanted to blame individuals for preventing the rain, but instead they would summon all the men in the area to come and shoot at a certain tree. The man whose arrow struck the tree, prompting water to come out, was noted by the elders as the person who had been stopping the rain from coming. But Kuu said the Muru was not like some communities, where those suspected of halting rainfall faced serious beatings by community members. “I like the way our elders worked,” Kuu said. “There was the recent case where a community in Torit (the capital of Eastern Equatoria State) beat a rain maker to death. Of course, this is not good.” But the current generation no longer shares the traditional respect for water, Kuu said. “These days you see how human activities are polluting water. Only drinking points are kept clean.” theniles6_20151123.indd 6 2015/11/23 2:13 PM
The Niles 7 Rainfall, Lakes & Boreholes Quick facts about where water is found, how it is used, and why it is such a problematic topic in South Sudan. Charlton Doki | Juba Water Resources * South Sudan has both underground and surface water sources. South Sudan’s surface water sources include the Nile (White Nile). According to the National Environmental Action Plan (NEAP), “an estimated 28 billion cubic meters, representing 30 percent of the flow of Nile water, passes through South Sudan to Sudan and on to Egypt”. Other rivers that provide a source of water in South Sudan are Bahr el-Ghazal, Kit, Ateppi, Tori, Sobat, Maridi, Ibba, Gel, Pongo, Jur, Lotilla, Aniik. * South Sudan also has numerous lakes: No, Yirol, Anyi, Nyropo, Maleit, Macher, Veveno, Adiet, Luibook and Lotik. Perhaps the most notable surface water source in South Sudan is The Sudd – a vast expanse of floating swampy vegetation (considered by some geographers as the largest wetland in the world). * Much of South Sudan’s ground water resources are located in what is referred to as the Um Ruwaba Formation, which is prevalent in parts of Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria as well as in Western Bahr el-Ghazal states. However, according to NEAP the clay and gravel in this area are characterised by poor water-bearing formations - meaning they are unable to bear sufficient ground water. * Another main source of water in South Sudan is rainfall. However, with the exception of Western Equatoria State, rainfall in other parts of South Sudan is quite seasonal. The main rainy season is often between July and October, with a second rainy season from March to May. Thus, some parts of the country receive more rain than others. * In general, South Sudan’s water resources are inequitably distributed across the country. The availability and quantity of South Sudan’s water resources also vary from year to year. This variance in the quantities of water resources and the government’s failure to invest in storage facilities has made parts of South Sudan vulnerable to flash floods during rainy seasons while other parts of the country are prone to persistent drought, according to South Sudan’s NEAP. * Although there are currently no statistics available on external and internal sources of water supply to South Sudan as well as consumption, it is clear that due to the recent increase in the country’s population following the end of two decades civil war, both domestic and commercial demand for water has been steadily increasing. According to the African Development Bank’s South Sudan Infrastructure Development Plan, the commercial and domestic demand for water in South Sudan is expected to continue, putting a strain on water availability across the country. Access to water * In South Sudan, ground water is the main source of drinking water, but the government has not invested much into the extraction of these resources. Consequently, many South Sudanese drink surface water, most of which is unclean and untreated. * The South Sudanese government says 67 percent of the country’s population, both in urban and rural areas has access to improved drinking water sources, which include piped water, public taps, boreholes or tube wells, protected wells, protected springs as well as rain water. * However, going by the World Health organisation’s definition of access to improved water sources to also mean that the water sources is easily accessible within a distance of no more than 30 minutes round trip to collect water, the actual number of people with access to improved drinking water could be lower. * The lack of access to clean safe drinking, hygiene and sanitation services has been one of the major causes of diseases in South Sudan. Diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, and cholera are often common especially during the rainy season, according to the United States Agency for International Development (UAAID). * Statistics from the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation indicate that 30-50 percent of water facilities are non-functional at any point in time due to the lack of spare parts, weak maintenance capacity, poor management, or an inappropriate choice of technology. * According to the Water Sanitation and Hygiene Strategic Plan of South Sudan’s water ministry, the actual level of access to an improved water source in rural areas is estimated at 34 percent. The government’s role * South Sudan’s Ministry of Electricity, Dams and Irrigation and Water Resources is in charge of formulating policy, mobilising funds to funding the sector as well as regulating the supply of drinking water. In towns, it is the South Sudan Urban Water Corporation (SSU- WC) that is tasked with providing water services. * The Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation adopted a water policy in 2007 and a strategic framework in 2011 shortly after South Sudan’s independence. The policy framework aims to promote effective management of the quantity, quality and reliability of available water resources with a view towards maximising social and economic benefits and ensuring long-term environmental sustainability. theniles6_20151123.indd 7 2015/11/23 2:13 PM