Hard choices in South Sudan: food or clean water?

by oxfamcanada | July 24, 2015
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An end to the fighting would go a long way toward solving the challenges so many families now face in meeting their basic needs.  

In South Sudan, only 55 percent of people have access to safe drinking water. And due to increased costs of production, water providers in the capital, Juba, are producing less and charging more, squeezing people’s access to safe water even further.

People living in urban areas, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, have been hardest hit. They can no longer afford to buy enough safe water. With the cost of living climbing almost 30 percent in the first half of this year, for many families putting food on the table becomes the first priority. Buying clean water often takes second place. But those who still can afford it now spend twice as much as they did just a few months ago.

In their own voices, here are the stories of three people in Juba and their struggles with clean water.

Moses Chazi: bicycle vendor

Moses Chazi came to South Sudan from Uganda more than a year ago. He is a mason by profession but construction work has been hard to come by since the economy took a downturn. He chose to sell water because demand for it is always high, guaranteeing a steady income.

“I have been selling water for five months now.

Water from the river is free. People who cannot afford to buy treated water from me have no choice but to use what they collect from the Nile.

When I’m delivering water, I try and speak to my customers, find out how they are. Since cholera broke out, I’ve been talking to them about the importance of using clean water, and making sure jerry cans are washed with soap. Some customers also check if my jerry cans are clean and ask me questions about the source of my water.

I’ve also talked to others who I know want to use treated water, but can’t because they don’t have the money to spend on it.  Some refuse to use treated water because to them it’s too salty and does not taste like water. A few months ago, before the value of the South Sudanese pound went down, I used to give out free water sometimes. I wish I could still do that, but it’s impossible now because every pound counts.

This business has really been affected by the economy. We were making the same amount of money but it does not have the same value as it did before. The cost of food, water and rent has increased. We were forced to increase the price of the water we sell because it cost more to collect it at the treatment site. I lost some customers, but some stayed.  

The price of food, water and transport has been increasing. I had to change some things in my day-to-day life to reflect the loss in my income.  I could not change the food I eat because I need strength for the work that I do. I had to take away from the water and the savings. I used to drink four liters of water a day, but now I only drink two. I can’t save as much as I used to.”

Sura Aggrey

Sura outside her home in Gudele. Photo: Stella Madete/OxfamSura Aggrey is a single mother of five children. Since separating from her husband, she has been living with her mother, who is helping her to raise the children.

“I get water from the blue water trucks. They used to drive through this neighborhood everyday, but now they hardly come. It’s on and off. I’m not sure what is going on. When the water in my house gets finished, I ask for some from my neighbors. When it rains, I collect that water in my buckets and drums.

The closest water point is too far for me to collect water.  When I have no other options, I get water from a nearby river, it’s not clean, but it’s something. The money I make as a policewoman is not enough anymore. It is not worth what it used to be. It’s challenging to buy food and charcoal when the prices keep going up. I am trying to do my best to survive with what I have.”


Truck vendors pumping water beside the Nile river in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Katrice King/Oxfam.Emmanuel, who asked that his last name not be used, moved two years ago with his wife and their 5-year-old daughter to Gudele, on the outskirts of Juba. The economy has affected their family, like many in South Sudan.

“We buy water from the blue water trucks every three days if the trucks come to Gudele. They used to come regularly, but not so much anymore. When we ask them what’s wrong, they say that we live too far and fuel is expensive or not even available sometimes.

Recently it’s been a challenge to get clean water for our day-to-day activities. If the trucks don’t come, our next option is to fetch untreated water at a water point about 700 meters away from our house. Many people fetch water from there and the lines are always very long. Sometimes you can wait in line for hours and in the end walk away without water because it’s finished. If we get water, we treat it and use it for cooking and drinking.

If we can’t afford the water treatment, we just use it as it is. The South Sudanese pound is not what it used to be. We’re already really struggling to make ends meet.

If we don’t get clean water from the water point, our only other option is to get it at the stream some meters from our house. This water is not clean and we cannot use it for cooking or drinking. If we have no choice, we use it to shower and wash our clothes.

We know about the cholera outbreak, and get worried that it will come to our home. We’re already making sure that our compound is clean; we clean our latrines and bathing areas regularly, and make sure we all use soap after using them. I’m doing everything to make sure that my family is protected. If anyone gets sick, it will be because people outside are not protecting themselves.”

Lasting peace needed

Oxfam constructed water point in Gumbo, Juba, South Sudan. Photo: Katrice King/OxfamFor the people of South Sudan, the only way they can begin to solve their water and economic problems is for the war to end. Oxfam is urging South Sudanese leaders to work towards a lasting peace and a recommitment to providing essential services for their people.

Throughout Juba, Oxfam is fixing wells, supporting effective chlorination of water delivered by water trucks, and increasing water treatment infrastructure so bicycle vendors have a bigger supply to draw from.

At one site within a UN base in Juba where more than 28,000 people live in crowded conditions, Oxfam is promoting good hygiene practices, such as hand washing and the cleaning of water storage facilities.

Oxfam is also installing hand washing facilities at strategic locations within the site and working with restaurant owners to raise awareness about the importance of using clean treated water for cooking and selling food.

However, concerted action from the government of South Sudan as well as increased funding from international donors is needed to ensure people get enough clean water.

Help Oxfam rush food and clean water to families in South Sudan.

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