Improving access to safe water for vulnerable communities in South Sudan

Published: 18 March 2015 15:52 CET

In South Sudan, two decades of conflict and neglect has made potable water scarce. According to UNICEF, 32 per cent of the population do not have access to clean drinking water and a mere 15 per cent of the population have access to latrines. Furthermore, only 45 per cent of basic primary schools in the country have access to safe water and only 17 percent have adequate sanitation facilities for both girls and boys. As a result of limited access to safe water and adequate sanitation, a third of the children under the age of five suffer from diarrhoea.

“When the rainy season came, there were always problems with the communities’ drinking water. People often used to get sick and suffer from diarrhoea. Then cholera broke out. Some people even lost their family members. I was concerned about the health of my family, but also of my neighbours who had already experienced such sorrow in the last months,” says Yosef Deng who lives in Juba with his family. “People used to source their drinking water from various places, never making sure whether it was safe or not. They often used to collect it from the river Nile which is dirty and polluted,” he adds.

Access to safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene promotion are all equally important; a combination of these elements are required to maintain and improve health and dignity. To prevent the spread of water-borne diseases and help improve hygiene and sanitation standards, South Sudan Red Cross is working on rebuilding and rehabilitating boreholes and larger water points in Juba and Unity State.

“When the Red Cross came and provided clean water, our community changed forever. They set up two water points so we could get our water from there and we could be sure it was clean. Also, people who were already sick could now go to Red Cross tents to receive the treatment [for cholera] they needed,” says Yosef.

Access to adequate sanitation and improved hygiene practices is challenging to achieve because it requires a change in behaviour, especially among those in most need. Hygiene promotion programmes are not solely about improving people’s knowledge of hygiene and health, nor is improved sanitation simply about building latrines. Indeed, much more is required. The community engagement process is vital to ensure a meaningful and sustainable behaviour change process. Red Cross staff and volunteers are being trained and are promoting hygiene related messages and practices in their communities.

“I also learned that much more had to be done to protect me and my family. In the hygiene and health education sessions provided by the Red Cross we learned how to wash our hands, use disinfectant and why we should use latrines. They always said washing hands after the toilet is the most important thing for protection. Red Cross volunteers and staff were also digging latrines next to the tents dedicated to treating cholera patients. Even in my daughters’ school they came and repaired the existing latrines so children are able to use them again,” adds Yosef.

Yousef concludes by saying, “I am very happy me and my family did not get sick and we were able to receive clean water from the water point built with support of the Red Cross. We are still applying all we have learned from the Red Cross to prevent any further illnesses and today my neighbours are more careful about the water they use at home.”

The South Sudan Red Cross is addressing health disparities by improving both access to safe water and providing adequate sanitation to the populations that are most difficult to reach. They are doing so by combining the provision of infrastructure with the promotion of local capacities and community ownership to build the resilience of populations and ensure sustainable development gains.

Under the umbrella of the Global Water and Sanitation Initiative 2005 to 2025, the Red Cross Red Crescent addresses both acute water and sanitation needs in emergencies (such as cholera), as well as in the long-term developmental context. To date the initiative has served over 15 million people with safe water and improved sanitation facilities in more than 80 countries. The plan is to reach an additional 15 million by 2025. Further to this, 6.5 million people have been reached by hygiene promotion activities and campaigns.

The Global Water and Sanitation Initiative has been made possible through the support of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their partners, AusAID, Cartier Foundation, Coca Cola, European Commission, Land Rover, Nestle, P&G and UK aid.