By David Tereshchuk
February 25, 2013—Since it split off from Sudan in 2011 after a long and brutal civil war, the new country of South Sudan has found its young life fraught with challenges.
But in one state at least, Northern Bahr el Ghazal (NBEG) on the new international border, which has taken in a heavy number of returning South Sudanese refugees, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is making progress in the vital area of water and sanitation.
During all-out war and since then, NBEG state has suffered from seriously constrained resources. The additional population-load of returnees further reduced everyone’s access to safe and clean water, both for the existing communities and the returning refugees.
Concern mounted inevitably about a spike in sanitation-related diseases such as cholera, as living spaces became overcrowded, in conditions with poor waste facilities that often forced people to defecate in the open.
UMCOR’s South Sudan field office, with funds from the US government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA, part of USAID), set about helping NBEG communities to improve their water, sanitation, and hygiene. Seven new boreholes have been drilled in the counties of Aweil West and Aweil North, increasing the area’s basic supply of clean water.
Residents previously had to spend at least two hours fetching water for their households, but with the new boreholes, water is now available within 30 minutes—a broadly accepted delivery time under the international Sphere guidelines on water provision. Such an improved supply has meant that the risk of people using contaminated water has been greatly reduced.
All in all, 34,456 people now have clean and safe water delivered to them—and 80,000 were provided with hygiene and sanitation information to increase their chances of fending off disease.
More than 1,200 households built new latrines. UMCOR employed the approach known as community-led total sanitation (CLTS) to mobilize communities to use locally available materials, making this vital task of improving sanitation conditions more economical and sustainable.
One striking aspect of these improvements is the speed with which they have been achieved. UMCOR’s Program Officer with responsibility for South Sudan, Meghan Corneal, made the practical observation: “All this happened during the implementation period of one year, July 2011 to July 2012, as laid down under the OFDA Grant.”