|© UNICEF Darfur/2005/Townsend|
|In Musbat, North Darfur, there is only one hand-pump in the town|
By Dorn Townsend
4 May 2005, EL FASHER, Darfur – Abdallah Hurry, a teacher at the Musbat elementary school in North Darfur, is losing students. Malnutrition and ongoing conflict have contributed immensely to the problem. These days, however, Abdallah is loosing students because there isn’t enough safe drinking water.
Extreme thirst is forcing students at Musbat and other schools in the area to spend their days trudging through the parched landscape. Besides dehydration, excursions into the surrounding landscape to find water expose children to other dangers, including sexual abuse from marauding rebel militias.
Across the North Darfur region, access to water is becoming scarce. Very little rainfall has caused scores of watering holes to dry up, while other wells have been poisoned by carcasses of dead animals. In addition, Government neglect of the water infrastructure has rendered half the area’s pumps inoperable.
“What’s happening here is an emergency within an emergency,” warned Keith Mackenzie, UNICEF’s Special Representative for the Darfur Crisis. “We’ve seen large scale displacement because of the conflict. Now it’s happening because of the lack of food and water.”
Signs of drought are everywhere. Whole villages are being abandoned as residents seek stable and safe access to water. The situation is even worse for displaced people living in the camps. UNICEF estimates that in the upcoming months the population in the camps will swell by an additional half million, bringing the total number of displaced people in Darfur to above 3,000,000.
The scenes at wells are equally chaotic. In Musbat, thousands will wait in line before sunrise for access to the only hand-pump in the town. Children are often pushed aside while waiting to fetch water. “These kids are probably expending more than a third of their daily calorie intake on water collection,” said Brendan Doyle, a water and sanitation consultant for UNICEF. “They’re returning to their families carrying containers of water outweighing themselves.”
UNICEF in action
As the primary supporter of water programmes in North Darfur, UNICEF is aggressively responding to this crisis. More than 150 new bore-holes are being drilled. A campaign to rehabilitate and sanitize inoperable pumps is also underway.
Wells are also being created in camps for displaced people, as well as host communities. Local residents are being trained to fix wells and spare parts are being donated to other communities. In partnership with USAID, UNICEF is sending teams of water and sanitation experts to find ways to sustain the area’s ground water.
Throughout it all, Abdallah hopes all the efforts will bring more students back to his classroom. “This is our problem. We can get calls from all over the world, but there still isn’t enough drinking water nearby,” remarked the worried teacher.