By Denis Morris Mimbugbe

  • An entire village drinks water from the river ponds in South Sudan
  • 83 percent of assessed settlements not using latrines
  • 11 percent of the population still rely on unimproved drinking water sources such as open ponds that expose them to waterborne diseases.
  • Pollution contributes to the poor condition of water and sanitation around Lake Yirol
  • Lakes State Program aims to increase access to safe water and help communities increase their incomes

Pollution has contributed to the poor condition of water and sanitation around Lake Yirol in South Sudan, which is one of the major health challenges for the people living near the lake.

The First State of the Environment and Outlook Report, 2018 noted that the single most critical environmental issue related to the pollution of local water supplies is the recurring incidence of gastrointestinal diseases, due to the consumption of contaminated water. Diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria are the most commonly reported primary health problems in the area, according to a 2019 USAID report on the Lakes region. 

In early 2019, access to latrines in the region was a huge challenge, with 83 percent of assessed settlements not using latrines – most because they were not available. Although the use of boreholes has improved over recent years, about 11 percent of the population still relied on unimproved drinking water sources such as open ponds that expose them to waterborne diseases. This is worsened by the majority of people defecating in the open, which contaminates unprotected water sources such as rivers. 

Yandior Dak, a mother of eight, has been living along the Panyi River for more than 25 years. She says the entire village drinks from the river ponds and there has never been any borehole or purified water source in the area since she was born.

“We drink water in this river, we cook with the same water; we don’t have boreholes. The water is not clean but [there is] no any other water anywhere; we have to take it like that; the only clean water we drink is when we collect the rain. No NGOs or government has ever come here and help people; nothing has been done,” said Dak.

Children drinking water from the lake. Image by Fredrick Mugira.

According to the First State of Environment and Outlook Report 2018, the collection, transportation, and final disposal of both solid and liquid waste are inefficient or non-existent in most South Sudanese towns. Most urban waste is burned, resulting in the proliferation of vectors, flies, and rodents, and leading to respiratory illnesses. Lack of proper sewage and water treatment systems means human waste contaminates the water for households, increasing illnesses.

David Ngong, the Episcopal church South Sudan descent bishop of Yirol, says people are exposed to bacteria through drinking unsafe water.

He says not until the late 1990s where government and other nongovernmental organizations introduce a few boreholes in the town center.

According to USAID, access to water was also a security concern especially for women and girls, who often have to walk a long distance on their own to fetch water.

More than 65 percent of the population accessed water within an hour’s walking distance. 

Water from the Lakes State Program, a project funded by the Netherlands government from 2013 to 2019, aimed to contribute to national security and reduce dependency on food aid in South Sudan by using water provision as an entry point for economic development.

Communities in the greater Lake States region received access to safe water and were trained to start income-generating activities to improve their livelihoods and to keep water flowing. 

By 2016, about 39 Village Sanitation Committees were formed and 312 Village Health Volunteers were trained.

Gabriel Majok Bol, the Inspector General for the database and system administration in the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, said the project provided nearly 742 boreholes in total, including rehabilitating some and drilling others. 

According to the project website, by 2016 (three years before the end of the project), the project had already drilled more than 80 boreholes and rehabilitated 131, providing improved access to safe water to 135,000 to 225,000 people in the Lakes region.

Gabriel said the project provided capacity building to communities, training them on income-generating activities, sanitation, agri-business production, fishing, and other technical knowledge.

“The communities were trained on hygiene. The staff was also trained on technical skills to repair the boreholes if need be. There was also training at the end of the project for the staff. The facilities are still being maintained because the project address the sustainability of the facility and the sustainability depend on the communities after the lifeline of the project, I believe they are still using the facilities at the moment despite the all the might have occurred,” said Gabriel

The project also helped pastoralists take their livestock to drink from the boreholes during the dry season when other water sources are scarce.

Mr. Gabriel says the project has helped women access water easily. Before, when there were few boreholes and the water points used to be very congested, many women used to travel a long distance to fetch water and could even fight amongst themselves during water collection.

This story was first aired on 99.3 SAMA FM. It was produced in partnership with InfoNile and Code for Africa with support from the Pulitzer Center and National Geographic Society; edited by Annika McGinnis.

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