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UNICEF water and sanitation programme helps save children’s lives in conflict-affected Darfur

© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Khanna
Amira, 15, fills water from UNICEF-supported temporary water bladders in Zamzam. Sanitation and safe water facilities are vital for children displaced by the on-going conflict in Darfur.

By Priyanka Khanna

NORTH DARFUR, Sudan, 2 June 2011 – Amira says she is 15 years old buts she looks much older. In the last five months, her family has had to move three times because of on-going instability in North Darfur. Her mistrustful eyes hint at the hardships she has faced in her short life.

Reluctantly and quietly she recounts how she and her family moved from their home in Shangil Tobaya to a nearby camp for displaced people. Violence in the area forced them to walk for days before arriving at Zamzam, North Darfur’s largest camp for displaced people, only to be told that they had to move again to a new site identified for thousands of other new arrivals.

Coping with hardship

In Darfur – an area equivalent to the size of France where decades of conflict has undercut the wellbeing of children – stories like Amira’s are all too common. In her strange new surroundings, Amira says she felt embarrassed to defecate in the open.

“This is what we girls all use now,” she says, pointing to a temporary pit latrine constructed by community members with support from the Government of Sudan’s Water and Environmental Sanitation project and UNICEF. It is one of more than 1,500 pit latrines constructed in Zamzam in the last two months.  

“Disease outbreak is what you fear most when you have this kind of mass influx of people,” says UNICEF Representative in Sudan Nils Kastberg, “which is why providing adequate safe water and sanitation facilities tops our list of emergency response.”

Providing a safe water supply and sanitation facilities to places like Zamzam is all the more challenging because the underground water – with its high fluoride and nitrate concentration – is largely unfit for consumption.

“In situations like this it’s vital that we adapt and innovate while negotiating with various government and non-government actors in order to overcome the many challenges,” explains Mr. Kastberg.

Meeting water and sanitation goals

Those efforts have paid off. The provision of water and sanitation, along with health and hygiene promotion campaigns, has helped minimize disease outbreaks. For example, there has been no outbreak of cholera since 2007. There are now improved prospects that Sudan will meet its Millennium Development Goal targets in terms of water accessibility by 2015.

In North Darfur State, 58 per cent of the population is using improved sources of drinking water, while improved sanitation facilities are reaching nearly all camps for displaced people. Challenges remain, however, as more than a third of the population using improved water must travel long distances in order to reach it.

To meet some of these concerns, UN agencies and the Government are organizing a major donor conference at the end of June on the theme of ‘Water for Sustainable Peace in Darfur’. The conference will appeal for $1 billion to address climate change, sustainability, water resources management and water supply issues in Darfur.

If this funding target is achieved, it will go a long way towards helping address the needs of Amira, and thousands of children like her.



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