Sudan: The wait for water

Sudan 13/05 - The major displacement of people in Darfur is challenging the access to water. In Garsilla in West Darfur ACT/Caritas is working full speed to drill boreholes in order to meet the need of the people.

By Malene Haakansson, ACT/Caritas information officer

One can spot the dark shadows of women placing their jerry cans in a long queue in front of the taps in Ardeba camp outside Garsilla town.

It is not even 5:00 in the morning. The women sit down patiently and wait for the guard to turn on the generator that pumps water into a big water bladder that is connected to several taps. At about 6.30 the water starts running, and the women rush to guard their jerry cans.

A young woman explains that she spends five to six hours every day fetching water, although she lives only 500 metres from the bladder. The water runs out of the taps three times a day, but the queue is long if your jerry can is not among the first ones in line.

The 25-year old woman is in charge of fetching water for her family of six - her two brothers, mother, her husband and two children. The family uses ten to 12 jerry cans a day for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing.

Before ACT/Caritas put up the water bladder, she used to fetch water from a wadi two kilometres away. It took her two to three hours to go there and back, and the queue was shorter, but she prefers to wait for the water closer to her shelter. "When you do not have a donkey and you have to carry all the water on your head, the distance to the wadi was too far," she says.

Ardeba Camp is one of three camps surrounding Garsila where ACT/Caritas provides water. Garsila camp, with its population of 32,000 displaced people and the host community of more than 42,000 people, is in great need of water to accommodate the large number of people who have fled their villages.

"Before we came to this area of Ardeba camp, there was only one well for more than 1,000 families, and it has dried out. The need for water was really big," says the ACT/Caritas water engineer, Prafulla Shrestha.

Not far from the water bladder where people are crowding, the ACT/Caritas drilling team is busy drilling other boreholes. A team of eight manages the rig that can drill a borehole in one day. The team plans to drill 12 boreholes altogether in Garsilla with the drilling equipment, which is small enough to be towed by a car.

"If the yield is good, we set up a water bladder, but if the yield is not so good we put up a hand pump," says the supervisor of the drilling team, Adam Mohamed Abdalla.

A bladder allows for setting up taps so that more people have access to water at the same time. This is not the case with hand pumps, which can be used only by one person at a time. The drilling team has already set up two water bladders in Garsilla, and three more bladders are on the way.

Before the drilling bit hits water, it has to bore its way through layers of clay, rock, and sand. "It normally takes five to six hours to reach the water. It depends on the formation," explains Adam Mohamed Abdalla, who has five more boreholes to drill in Garsilla before heading west to Um Kher.

Every one and a half to two meters, the team takes a sample of the formation in order to know which bit to use. The boreholes can be as deep as 48 metres in Garsilla. When the bit hits water, a blue plastic casing is put down and water is pumped up until it is pure.

To test the water's quality, the drilling team takes a sample and sends it to a laboratory before constructing the platform around the borehole. ACT/Caritas does not have any plans for digging new wells in Garsilla, because the ground is very rocky, making it tough to dig, but ten wells will be rehabilitated to accommodate the needs of the host community.

According to international Sphere standards, each person is supposed to have 15 litres of water per day to sustain livelihood, but to supply this quantity is difficult. Every day ACT/Caritas receives requests from villages that need water. The needs are simply bigger than the capacity of the operation. However, a second drill rig is expected to arrive in Darfur soon to help fill the gaps.