Sudan: All our wells are dry

News and Press Release
Originally published
Sudan (Northern States) -- Medair provides training in water cycle management to enable communities to manage their limited water supply.

In the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan, clean drinking water is a critical need. The United Nations estimates that less then half of the population have access to a safe water supply, and in some cases, only one in five people have access to clean water. With the long civil war now ended, people displaced from the region are returning home, which increases the strain on very limited water resources.

Why is safe drinking water so scarce in the Nuba Mountains?

There are no permanent rivers in this area, and as the rainy season last for only a few months each year, most people rely on underground sources called aquifers for their water. There are about 3,000 boreholes with handpumps in the state, but approximately 25 percent of them are not functional. In some cases, this is due to mechanical problems which can be repaired. However, in the majority of cases, the water quality is too poor or - more often - there is inadequate water in the aquifer.

"Two months after the end of the rains, all our wells are dry," says a community leader in the village of Daldago. "We have to use handpumps, but the nearest one that works is over an hour's walk away. There is a handpump nearer our village, but there is no water left in it."

How is Medair trying to address the problem?

Medair is working to improve access to clean water in areas where the aquifers are currently low or non-existent, but this does not always involve drilling more boreholes. "When faced with a borehole that has run dry, the initial reaction from villagers is often to request a new, or deeper, borehole to be made," explains Ali Lima Mohammed, Medair's Water and Sanitation Project Assistant. "However, this is extremely expensive, and does nothing to address the root cause of the problem: that underground water reserves are a limited resource."

Medair recently provided training in water cycle management for 12 participants from four villages in the area northeast of Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan. The participants included village chiefs, pump mechanics, and women's leaders, all of whom gained a better understanding of their hydrogeological environment, and learned about appropriate ways to address water access problems.

What is water cycle management?

The course in water cycle management teaches that aquifers are a finite or limited resource that need to be recharged in order for communities to maintain a supply of safe water. It starts with an explanation of the hydrologic cycle - describing the movement of water on, in, and above the earth - and finishes by examining different ways that aquifers can be recharged in the Nuba Mountains, including sub-surface dams and terracing. The course also covers alternatives to handpumps, exploring the benefits and methods of rainwater harvesting.

The success of water cycle management is clearly evidenced when participants visit the nearby Lagori dam. Four years after the dam was constructed by the State Water Corporation, there is clear evidence of rejuvenation in the rich vegetation around the dam area. More importantly, there is clear evidence that aquifer levels are rising, because even when the water in the dam dries up, the water levels in nearby wells are increasing.

"At the end of this course, participants who may have originally thought that the only solution is to dig a deeper well should leave with the knowledge that groundwater is a finite resource," says Georgina Prentis, Medair's Project Coordinator. "The viability of alternative sources for drinking water such as rainwater harvesting - and the usefulness of aquifer recharge methods -- should be not only understood, but wanted and implemented."

Course participant Awad Abas Kori looks at an ancient line of terraced stones across an incline so common in the Nuba Mountains. "In the past, we asked our fathers what the purpose of this terracing was, and they could not tell us," he says. "After this course, we now understand what they are for."

Medair is an international non-governmental organization (NGO), based in Switzerland. It has worked in Sudan since 1995, and in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan since 2003. Medair currently supports access to primary health care in three areas of the Nuba Mountains, and has recently commenced provision of safe water and sanitation. These activities are carried out in collaboration with UNICEF and other UN agencies; Islamic Relief Worldwide; the Water and Environmental Sanitation Department; the Ministry of Rural Water Development; and the Humanitarian Aid Commission / Sudan Relief And Rehabilitation Commission. This project receives financial support from the governments of Sweden (SIDA) and Switzerland (SDC).

In addition to water cycle management training, Medair's water and sanitation activities in South Kordofan include installation of rainwater harvesting systems at clinics; construction of sub-surface dams or terracing; provision of new boreholes; support for construction of household latrines; and public health promotion.

Elsewhere in Sudan, Medair provides access to primary health care, and water and sanitation for up to 200,000 conflict-affected persons in West Darfur; and works with war-displaced people in Khartoum. In Southern Sudan, Medair provides emergency medical and water assistance in a number of locations across the region and improves access to primary health care and safe water sources in Upper Nile.

Medair's life-saving activities are dependent upon private financial support. To contribute to this work, please visit (Sudan section).