When access to water gets a new meaning

An innovative water project making water fetching safe again

Helene Sandbu Ryeng
A man and jerrycans
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
03 February 2020

Yambio, South Sudan 

“Every week, someone is breaking their arms or legs climbing the steep valley in quest for water,” says Jonina Valentina. “I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen down the cliff while fetching water, luckily I haven’t broken anything,” she adds while displaying the scars she has sustained on her legs from numerous falls.

A few meters from Jonina’s house, the ground drops into a u-shaped depression with steep sides and three small streams would surface at the bottom and function as the main water source for the community. Half of the year, the path is not only steep but also slippery as the dirt turns into mud during the rainy season. 

A valley with water pumps
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
The slopes on the sides of the depression is steep and gets slippery when it rains

Yet, children and women make the dangerous climb several times a day to get water for drinking, cooking, bathing and cleaning. They have access to water, but with a high cost.

Two women fetching water from a water point
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Jonina Valentina (to the left) and Viola Dominic (to the right) fetching water in a safe way through this innovative project

“You can imagine having a baby tied on your back and a jerrycan filled with water which is about 20 litres on your head, and then trying to walk up this steep hill. When it is muddy it is even harder,” Jonina says and adds “I know about women who went into labour by doing the climb.”

Viola Dominic decided to stop putting herself at risk and buy water instead. “I pay 25 South Sudanese Pounds (16 cent) for one jerrycan. I have three children which needs to be cleaned and cooked for, so you can imagine the cost.”

“Every week, someone is breaking their arms or legs climbing the steep valley in quest for water,”

Jonina Valentina
A baby boy smiling
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
One year and eight months-old Larvik, one of Viola's three children. With easy access to water it is also easier to keep the children clean

Water innovation

With the support of Infineon and the Germany National Committee for UNICEF, UNICEF South Sudan and World Vision International embarked on an innovation project, aimed at giving the families dignified access to safe water by developing a community Spring project

Safe water from the spring eyes are run through a filtration chamber and then into a collection chamber and further into underground reservoirs where two solar powered submersible pumps are pumping water up to a community water point with four taps, where Jonina and Viola can fetch water in a safe way. The overflow in the reservoir is sent back into the stream’s natural course, in order to sustain access to water for people living down the stream.

Throughout the project, communities were engaged and consulted. To ensure the project’s sustainability, a water management committee with 18 members (10 men and 8 women) was formed and trained on the water resources management, financial management, water tariff setting, Operation and Maintenance.

A mother holding her eith-month-old boy
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng
Jonina Valentina holding Martin, her eight-month-old son.

Cooking and cleaning will be easy

“Before, I would cook meals that didn’t require any water, or I would not cook at all because I couldn’t make another climb that day. Now I can get water whenever I need to cook or clean. I have two boys, so you can imagine I have my hands full keeping them and their clothes clean. This will now be so easy,” Jonina says.

Her neighbour, Viola, says she will save a lot of money going forward

“All the money I have spent on water I can now spend on food, soap and school fees.”

In South Sudan, only 40 per cent of the population have access to clean drinking water. This community in Yambio was among the 40 per cent, but the access was not safe. While ensuring more people in the country have access to safe water is urgently needed, ensuring safe and dignified access is also a priority.

“With the extra money, you cannot allow indulging yourself in any way?”

“No, the little I have I spend on the children. They are the best investment you can make,” Viola finishes.

Jerrycans being filled at the water point
UNICEFSouthSudan/Ryeng