The challenge of water in South Sudan
9 March 2021
Since South Sudan gained independence in 2011, it has experienced two periods of conflict – in 2013 and 2016 - before a peace agreement was signed in 2018.
The peace has largely held, but local-level fighting still carries on throughout the country and there are huge challenges around the climate too. South Sudan has seen floods, droughts and associated displacement, particularly over the past couple of years.
The world's newest country
Ibrahim, CAFOD's country representative for South Sudan, explains some of the challenges facing the world's newest country:
“We've seen very frequent cycles of flooding and with huge impact. For example, last year we had close to a million people affected by floods. And the same in 2019.
"The frequency of flooding is very high, and communities suffer spikes of drought. These are indications of the impact of climate change. And that links very closely to issues of displacement because people have to move when there's flooding or when there's drought or conflict. Over the past eight months, we've seen over half a million people who've had to leave their homes because of flooding, to seek safety elsewhere.”
“We've seen very frequent cycles of flooding and with huge impact. For example, last year we had close to a million people affected by floods. And the same in 2019."
Ibrahim, CAFOD's country representative for South Sudan
Access to safe water
Access to safe water is a key issue resulting from conflict and climate challenges.
“There are very high water, hygiene and sanitation needs amongst communities,” says Tom, CAFOD's programme coordinator for South Sudan, “driven by violence, flooding and a lack of infrastructure. With all these challenges, families need access to safe water. This is particularly important because of Covid-19.”
“Access to water would help mitigate some of the triggers to conflict,” adds Ibrahim. “CAFOD, in partnership with UNICEF, invested in water treatment systems which provide clean water to communities, benefitting about 2,500 people. That’s about 1,000 households – which is quite significant!
“South Sudan also has the benefit of having a lot of sunshine, which is brilliant. We are looking at setting up similar systems tapping into this energy, using solar to run the system so it’s self-sufficient, sustainable and also not contributing to the impact of climate change.”
“There are very high water, hygiene and sanitation needs amongst communities, driven by violence, flooding and a lack of infrastructure. With all these challenges, families need access to safe water. This is particularly important because of Covid-19.”
Tom, CAFOD's programme coordinator for South Sudan
Working with Water User Committees
“One of the really important things is how we engage with communities,” continues Tom, “so that the work of our partners on the ground is sustainable. When we work to fix boreholes and pumps, we also work with community members who form what we call a ‘Water User Committee’. This is a committee of around five people – a mixture of the host community and those who have left their homes because of conflict or flooding and have settled in the area. This committee will come together and oversee the use of the borehole. Perhaps they’ll charge people a small amount to use it. They’ll then put those funds together into a central pot.
“We also work with the community to train pump mechanics in the area, so in the future, if the boreholes or pumps break, there’s a mechanic on hand who can repair them. And they can use some of the funds that have been raised by the Water User Committee to pay the mechanic.
“So, as well as providing safe water – which is hugely essential – it’s also building and working with communities in order that the intervention is sustainable, so communities are resilient going forward.”
The Church in South Sudan
South Sudan is a predominantly Christian country. The reach of the Church has been utilised in a number of ways.
“The church is well respected by communities and actors throughout the country on all sides of the conflict,” says Tom. "It’s important and very useful in terms of access and in terms of engagement – of bringing communities together. Examples of this include our peacebuilding work. The Church is well positioned to bring together parties in conflict to neutral forums to discuss nonviolent resolutions to conflict.”
“We work with the Church to engage with the participants of conflict,” adds Ibrahim, “to see how we can resolve things at a national level, but also at a community level, working with local churches in smaller church groups.”
“Another really important role of the Church,” continues Tom, “has been in our response to coronavirus. We’ve been doing radio broadcasts on best sanitation practice, with a doctor and a priest who can speak and engage with the community together, but with that authority, access and reach of the Church. Community acceptance has been really positive.”
"We’ve been doing radio broadcasts on best sanitation practice, with a doctor and a priest who can speak and engage with the community together."
Tom, CAFOD's programme coordinator for South Sudan
Savings groups are benefitting women in the long term
“Supporting women is critical,” says Ibrahim. “Women are hugely disadvantaged in terms of access to education, access to positions of authority and influence, and also being on the edge of peace negotiations. Looking at how we can support women to actively participate in these spaces is something we do. We realise that working with women has a huge impact. It will help move the country forward.”
“Another way that we're engaging with communities,” says Tom, “is setting up savings groups. Members come together, they save money in a communal pot, and then any member of the group can take a loan from that pot in order to start a business – perhaps a tea stand, maybe a mobile phone charging stand. We're starting to see an increase in uptake in these groups – particularly across rural areas.”
“A lot of women are affected by conflict, drought and flooding,” continues Ibrahim. “Therefore, this lending support, where they come together in groups to save money and then support each other, initiating livelihood options, has been very impactful. And that goes beyond immediate assistance, supporting women to have a livelihood that they can rely on for a long period of time.”