A brutal civil war between the north and south of Sudan which ran for 21 years ended on 9th January 2005. The country has experienced almost three years of peace, but the war destroyed the infrastructure of the country and a humanitarian crisis still exists as hundreds of thousands of people return home to areas devastated by war.
It takes about 90 seconds to fill a 20 litre jerry can from the borehole near the main Thiet Market, give or take 15 seconds depending on who is on the lever of the manual pump. Many times the lever is swung by enthusiastic bare-chested children, about six to eight years old, who love to jump as they push the lever downwards, then lift it up slowly with both hands before jumping on it again, gushing out a stream of clear clean water. If the pump is used continuously, as is the norm, about 1600 litres of water is collected every hour, or 19,200 litres a day. One borehole equipped with a hand pump can serve the water needs of approximately 500 people per day.
"One borehole when properly equipped, can produce water for many years," says Peter Ndisya, the Water and Sanitation Officer in Tonj.
Several years ago the borehole had run down due to a lack of technical know-how on repairing the diesel-powered pump. It was then that World Vision stepped in with a manual pump. The result has been outstanding. With the borehole not operating, the women previously had to walk for three hours to the nearest water point. Half the day was spent looking for water, especially in areas such as Thiet in Tonj that have no single river.
In the Tonj area of Bahr el Ghazal region, a predominantly Dinka area, water is collected mostly from ponds, seasonal rivers and shallow unprotected open wells. This is a common scenario in most of the rural areas of southern Sudan. The water collected straight from these sources is itself a source of diverse diseases. Cases of guinea worms have been rampant. Cholera has had its toll too. Sinking boreholes has turned around the fortunes of many in South Sudan. “People are up as early as six in the morning lining up for water. Sometimes they go up to very late in the night,” says Peter Buol, a resident of Thiet. Around South Sudan, World Vision has dug over 130 boreholes since 1999.
Wherever World Vision staff set up camp to start the process of sinking another borehole, children mill around. First they are curious, looking intently at the heavy machines and the staff at work. Usually, they are the only ones around to cheer the staff along when they finally strike water, a process that takes about two days. The children have no qualms about getting the water splashed on them. “Eventually it is they who benefit. Children have no say on where their parent and guardians collect water, yet unclean water affects them the most. Seeing them happily playing is always refreshing,” says Stephen Maina, World Vision Water and Sanitation Manager in South Sudan.
In South Sudan, the availability of water determines the location of a village or county. “Every place we sink a borehole, we also see life springing out. In fact, some areas would have no people whatsoever if not for the boreholes we sank that attracted people to the area. Clean water in South Sudan is a rare precious product,” says Maina.
It takes about US$13,000 to sink a borehole and fit a pump. The benefits though, are priceless. “It takes much more to deal with guinea worms and cholera in a community, not to mention the man-hours lost in seeking treatment. Having clean water is definitely a cleaner cheaper option,” says Molly Mwangi, World Vision Health Manager in South Sudan. It is not uncommon to see women washing clothes, filling jerry cans, answering calls of nature, and others drinking directly from the same pond, all within a stone-throw of each other. “You want to blame them, but sometimes they have no where else to get water,” says Maina.
Southern Sudan is blessed with vast underground water resources. Therefore boreholes have remained the main source of clean and safe water for many of the communities that are able to access them. In most cases borehole water is safe for human consumption, as it does not require any treatment. So far this year alone, 60 boreholes have been drilled and equipped. “Since last year, we have been busier because of the issue of returnees coming back to already overstretched resources,” says Maina. “We have also been blessed to have two more drilling rigs added to our machinery capacity. The work however remains daunting. What we have done remains a drop compared to the need.”
World Vision hopes to drill another 90 boreholes in the coming year. “The impact of one borehole to a community is great. We hope to get good-enough funding to be able to touch more lives," says Maina.