Port Sudan citizens at risk from dirty water
Locals in Port Sudan State are risking their health by using water from wells dug inside their homes amid an ongoing water crisis in the parched region. Experts warn that the well water is fit for washing but not for drinking.
Port Sudan citizens explained that they use the well water, which can be contaminated by sewage, because they are desperate for water -- even though they suspect the water could make them ill.
“Gaining access to water is now a serious problem and the government did not solve it: We had but to excavate these wells,” says Adel Abdurrahman, who works in the real estate market. He added that talk of possible diseases is somewhat exaggerated.
But the Eastern Sudan Research Center (ESRC) has found the commonly used water to be far below safe standards. ESRC Director and Red Sea University Graduate Study Dean Ahmad Abdulaziz, said the ESRC has examined the physical and chemical characteristics of nine water samples from the city’s wells and found their salinity levels lie between 3,700 and 7,500 milligram/litre -- dramatically higher than normal levels which should not exceed 500 mg/litre.
“We have also found seven to nine pathogenic bacteria, largely because most of these wells are near wastewater,” said Abdulaziz.
Unlike those who use the water of these wells, Abdulaziz said it is unsafe, adding that it is called surface water since it is only four to seven meters below the surface. “Lab studies have shown chemical elements with abnormal levels, such as sulphur and lead,” he said.
Many of Port Sudan’s citizens are affected by this crisis, especially vulnerable children, prone to water-born diseases.
Emad Hussein, who owns an electrical appliance repair workshop, said he sometimes has to use the risky water: “I try to avoid using it,” he added.
Zeinab Seddiq, a housewife, believes that these wells are their only option, though dangerous. Other sources have become scarce and prices have skyrocketed, she said.
The price of a drum of water has risen as high as SDG 100 (around US$15) while a 16-litre container cost seven pounds (just over one dollar). As a result only rich citizens can afford the high costs, boosting social inequality in Port Sudan.
Lawyer and human rights activist Hassan Tayeb Yassin argued that this contravenes the UN’s General Comment No. 15 which affirms the human right to sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water. “The Sudanese suffer a lot before they can have clean water, as is evident in Port Sudan,” said Yassin.
Water demand in the city is estimated at 200-300 thousand cubic metres while the supply is only 35,000 cubic metres.
The government has not offered any solutions to this shortfall, although it has spoken of establishing a water transportation line from the Nile to the city. However, this plan has remained ink on paper ever since the initial contract was signed in 2005. Its failure to implement the plan boils down to the high price tag of the project: USD 47 million.
The regional water crisis is worsened as there are few non-governmental organisations providing water, except for some organisations with limited capacities drilling wells for communities outside the city.
Port Sudan still relies mainly on the water of Wadi Arba’at, which the government of the British occupation depended on to supply water to the city back in the 1930s when the population was less than 50,000.
These days the city contains some 800,000, according to a 2010 census, but there remains no clear plan how to ensure water supplies for its fast-growing population.
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