World Water Day: Making the invisible visible in Sudan

In Darfur, a project is helping communities access basic water and have more time for their children and income-generating activities

By Khamisa Mohamed
clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022
21 March 2022

This year’s World Water Day theme, Groundwater: Making Invisible Visible, is highly relevant in the Sudanese context, especially for people in Darfur who rely heavily on groundwater resources. For example, only 18.86 per cent of people in the Yasin Locality of East Darfur have basic water access., 

The invisible groundwater remains the main water source for most of communities – but water table is very low, making drilling and maintenance cost high for the authorities. The lack of access to water has a very visible impact on the communities. 

Due to insufficient access to basic water sources, people are forced to walk up to 20 km every day to collect water. These long walks often lead people to water sources that are unimproved surface water, such as ponds and open hand dug wells, which are often contaminated. The same water sources are used for cattle and for human consumption, causing health problems among children under 5 years of age who are prone to water-borne diseases. 

clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022
Drinking unclean water puts children at risk.

With such limited availability, people must choose how to use the little water they have, either for hygiene, cooking or drinking. The daily challenge of finding water means that school-age children and their communities are trapped in poverty, having to spend most of their days searching for water. Children lose out on their education. This is especially the case girls who lack access to safe water to manage menstrual hygiene and must drop out of schools because of lack of proper sanitation facilities. Adults lose out on farming, other work, or domestic chores because of the long time they spend searching for water. Even infants are at risk. Childbirth without safe water increases the risks of infections like sepsis.

To address this chronic challenge, UNICEF, with generous funds from the BPRM, collaborated with the National Initiative for Development Organization (NIDO) to provide a hybrid solar-powered water system for refugees in settlement and host communities. This project upgraded an existing hand pump in the Muhajeriya communities in Yassin Locality. Water quality testing is conducted to ensure that water is safe to drink. 

 “When UNICEF team visited Muhajeriya to inform them about upgrading a water system, we couldn’t believe it!” says Ahmed Ismail, a traditional community leader who works as a farmer. “Our suffering was enormous. But now we have water a few meters from our homes thanks to NIDO and UNICEF.”

clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022
clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022

Sarah Akol, a mother of three children, says that assistance on the construction of the water source came at the right time. “Every morning I walked along the sandy track and set off to the nearest stream, a two km journey to fetch contaminated water. I am grateful for this project. There is plenty of water in the village now. Instead of walking long distances to collect contaminated water, we now have both clean water and time to take care of our children.”

clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022

When the UNICEF team visited the refugees and host communities in Muhajeriya village to monitor the impact of the programme, the hand pumps were functioning very well. The water committee has been maintaining them and arranging for repairs when necessary. The community continues to maintain cleanliness and good hygiene practices taught in the hygiene and sanitation training.

clean water, safe water, Sudan, World Water Day 2022, hygiene, safe drinking water
UNICEF Sudan/2022

Thanks to the generous support of the BPRM fund, a total of 21 hand pumps in Muhajeriya area were rehabilitated (including one that was upgraded) and now supplying precious groundwater to the refugee and host communities, serving 15,000 people. The key to the success of the project is the significant consideration the partner gave to the social aspect. The community was involved in the project from the onset, and people actively engaged and took the lead in it. The supporting sanitation and hygiene activities under the project ensured that clean and safe water is used to maintain appropriate hygiene practices, including COVID-19 preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing with soap. By the end of the project, households spend approximately an hour less per day collecting water, increasing time opportunities to engage in income-generating activities. As groundwater management requires constant monitoring, operation and maintenance, UNICEF and its partner supported the water committee to manage the borehole and ensure a sustainable use of precious groundwater resource.