By Bernhard Helmberger, Austrian Red Cross and Marial Mayom, South Sudan Red Cross
Sitting in the dust on the road, long metal pipes lay, ready to be installed. Under the tropical sun of Northern Bahr El Gazhal, a team of South Sudan Red Cross volunteers is sweating in the heat, lively chatting while repairing a broken platform of a water site in Aweil Centre County. With the support of local hand pump mechanics, the volunteers have repaired 30 water sites over the last few months, to protect water sources from spillage and possible contamination. Each of these sites caters to approximately 500 users, providing access to clean water to more than 15,000 people.
Dominic Garang Aleu is a teacher who joined the South Sudan Red Cross as a volunteer in 2013. He fled from his village when he was a child during the civil war in Sudan, and came into contact with the Red Cross for the first time as a refugee in Kenya. He is now leading the water facilities rehabilitation team of the Aweil branch and knows all too well the challenges his people face.
“No one feels responsible for a water site, therefore every point must have a water management committee in place to prevent breakdown,’’ says Dominic. He highlights the need to combine the maintenance work of the committee with trainings to emphasize the importance of hygiene. “As a result,” he adds, “people started to clean up around the water sites, fenced their water points, and even collected money to cater to borehole repairs.”
Seven new sites equipped with hand pumps were constructed in several areas of Aweil Centre County as there was no existing supply of clean water. One of the new sites lies between the villages of Nyikualal, Mayomdit and Amanjam.
“People living around here used to go to the Chel river in the west and it would take them three hours to get water,” explains Paskuala Duma, who lives nearby. “Now it takes a maximum of 30 minutes, and in the rainy season, people no longer have to fetch water from the puddles and little ponds.” Paskuala says he is aware of the dangers of contaminated water so he used to boiling his drinking water. He admits, however, that this is usually a lengthy process and not many people treat their water despite knowing the dangers.
“Last year during the cholera outbreak, we had to go out and demonstrate water purification techniques to households to control the outbreak,’’ says David Mitu, water and sanitation coordinator, South Sudan Red Cross. “Together with our partners, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, we also carried out interventions to bring the ‘number one medicine’ – safe water - to people affected by the outbreak.” Volunteers visit communities every week, sensitizing people on the importance of hygiene, and working with them to improve their hygiene practices.
John Mou, Aweil branch hygiene promotion supervisor, highlights that the availability of clean water to the people of Aweil means so much more. It contributes to improved hygiene practices, and means less time is spent collecting water. The volunteers have even constructed a vegetable garden irrigated through a special water yard running on solar power which has helped in boosting their food security.
The South Sudan Red Cross is combining access to safe water with improved hygiene practices, a crucial combination in ensuring the right balance between action on sanitation and water.
The activities in Northern Bahr El Gazhal are part of a long term project supported by the Austrian Red Cross, aimed at building the capacity of staff and volunteers in the water and sanitation sector. In total, the South Sudan Red Cross has, to date, provided clean water for approximately 58,000 people through this project.