MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA feature stories for Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2009/Wheeler

Isa chlorinates a water tank in Kunena Village in Gedaref State. A regular chlorination programme. supported by the European Commission and UNICEF, has helped reduce the risk of cholera and other water-borne diseases.


KUNENA, GEDAREF STATE, Sudan, 24 June 2009 – Saddam Mohammed’s donkey stands patiently as his water saddle, made from a rubber inner tube and crafted to hold eight litres on each side, is filled. The donkey then begins its fifth or sixth trip from the water yard to one of the thatched homes in Kunena village, located 30 kilometres from the Ethiopian border. 

In this village it is donkeys, not water pipes that connect many homes to a clean water supply.  The bright blue water tank where Saddam and others load the water saddles on their donkeys can be seen from the road. Saddam pulls out the corn-cob stoppers on the water bladders, providing a family with another days’ water supply. Importantly, the water is chlorinated.

Fatma Mohammed, who has four children, has her water supply delivered by Saddam Mohammed’s donkey. “The water tastes better and is cleaner,” she says of the chlorination.

Clean water was not always so easy to find in the villages of Gederef State. In 2007, Kunena village suffered an outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea, a term often used to describe possible cholera.  “Many, many people were sick and 10 people died,” says Asha Mohammed Nhasroot, a member of Kunena’s Sanitation Committee.

Chlorination has since reduced cholera cases from over 1,400 in 2007 to 163 in 2008 in Gederaf State.  “All the villages that were provided with mini-water yards in 2008 have not reported any new cases of waterborne disease,” explains UNICEF Sudan’s Water and Sanitation Specialist Imad Eldin Suleiman.

The local school in Kunena – on the other side of the dry river bed from the water yard – receives water for free, as does the village clinic and anyone who just wants to take home a jerry can or two.

Educating against disease
Providing chlorination alone, though, is not enough. Hard-working advocates like Ms. Nhasroot and the nine other members of the local sanitation committee persuade families to build latrines and stop going to the toilet in the open air, a practice that can contaminate water supplies and spread disease through flies. 

“We’re planning to have an ‘open defecation’-free village by the end of 2009,” Nhasroot declares. “It will be tough but we will persist.”  She has every reason to be confident – in the past two years latrine use has increased from 20 per cent to half of all village households. 

To reach their goal, the local team uses a variety of methods - including the participation of children. After learning about hygiene practices at school the children are encouraged to alter their own homes. Fatma Mohammed has also installed a latrine in her house. “The Sanitation Committee comes around with good messages.”

Kunena is just one of 10 villages that received ‘water yards’ supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office and UNICEF in cholera-prone Gedaref State in 2008 and 2009.


MALAKAL, Southern Sudan, June 2009 – There are cries of anguish amidst the screams of children as a youngster falls to the ground, grabbing his knee, his face racked in pain.  Then there is laughter: this time it’s just a drama, a landmine awareness performance by a youth group to primary school students.

“Stop, don’t move, there is danger!” shouts actor Paul Mark, as 70 pupils crammed four to a narrow bench in the tin-roof classroom go wild with applause.

A dozen more pupils at Joshua Dei Basic School in Malakal, who have slipped out of their classes to see the performance, whistle in support through open windows. But the drama, part of ongoing mine risk education programmes to raise awareness about the lethal explosives, has a serious point.

Although Sudan’s civil war finished four years ago, its legacy causes casualties today. During the conflict, communities such as Malakal were confined by northern government forces with fields of landmines that circled the area as a protective shield to deter attacks from surrounding southern rebel forces. Buried landmines and unexploded ordnance leftover from the conflict still remain hidden in the soil.

“They have a terrible cost here,” says Guatbel Reak Chuol, a mine risk education and victim assistance officer with the Southern Sudan Demining Commission, the group that organizes the mine awareness drama sessions with UNICEF support.  “They were deliberately planted on areas people use most – a river bank or in the shade of a tree for example,” he adds.

UNICEF supports mine risk education programmes that focus especially on those who are internally displaced or recently returned to the area, as well as children, who are often the most vulnerable to the dangers of unexploded ordnance.  The life-saving information sessions are also usually linked directly into the mainstream education system. 

Later, when Chuol asks how many in the crowded classroom have seen real examples of the photograph of the landmines on a poster he holds up, hands shoot up across the classroom. The drama team is effective in engaging attention, while also providing serious lessons and information booklets.

One of those helping with the work is Pagan Deng, a primary school teacher. He’s a trainer who provides a graphic example for the children he instructs. Rolling up his trousers, he reveals his right leg is plastic to the knee.  “I was going down to wash in the river, I was just a boy,” he says, glancing sideways. “I don’t remember what happened next. Losing my leg changed my life completely.”

“When I tell the children about the dangers of mines, I can show them exactly what damage they can do, and that has a big impact on them,” Mr. Deng continues. “Then they really listen hard, when I tell them how to avoid them as far as is possible.”

In addition to landmines, unexploded bombs also pose a threat. While not as hidden as most landmines are, children who find them are attracted to playing with the metal casings, which still contain often extremely unstable explosives.

Although work is ongoing to locate, mark and defuse unexploded ordnance in Sudan, it is a slow, painstaking and expensive effort.  Until the land can all be cleared - a process that could take years - children need to know how to remain safe.

For some, the impact landmines can have is already all too real. Angelina Nyaching was blinded when a landmine exploded as she went to collect firewood.  Her 10-year-old daughter Gisma, the oldest of four children, is now responsible for guiding her, a full-time task that has forced her to drop out of school.  She and her siblings also help their injured mother carry sand from the river to sell for building materials, earning the most basic of incomes to survive.

“It’s the only work I can find to do to earn money for food,” says Angelina, resting in the shade of a simple tin and rag shack shelter that serves as their home. “I would like the children to go to school but I cannot afford to,” she adds. “I am still in pain every day from what happened.”