Wednesday, April 30, 2008
on the banks of the world’s longest river in Sudan’s Upper Nile State,
should have enough water to quench thirst and clean itself; instead the
town was grappling with serious challenges as it marked the
international week of sanitation in March.
"Towns along the
rivers of Upper Nile, like Malakal, are areas inhabited by citizens who
get water directly from the rivers," Peter Pal Riak, the state’s
minister for physical infrastructure, said on 25 April. "That water is
a source of disease."
With the onset of the rainy season, aid workers worry that cholera could become a significant danger.
river water, which is mostly consumed untreated by many town residents,
is contaminated with clay, wood, vegetation, potential pathogens and
micro-organisms. Many people bathe in the river, adding to the
Further contamination occurs during transportation,
often in a metallic or plastic container pulled by donkeys through
Malakal’s dusty streets, and during storage or consumption with dirty
According to local residents, the town used to have
a piped water supply system but it collapsed during the years of war
between the Southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan
national army. The war ended in 2005, but by then the pipes were
blocked or had been looted.
Similarly, waste disposal and
drainage systems collapsed – just as the population increased. The
situation is compounded by a serious shortage of toilet facilities. As
a result, say aid workers, Malakal, whose population has doubled from
10,000 in the last few years as those displaced by the war return home,
has appalling sanitation.
River of waste
town has virtually no public toilets and inadequate private facilities.
As a result, many residents relieve themselves in open fields all over
town - and rarely wash their hands.
"If you go into open
places in the town, you can get discouraged," said Santino Olwak,
director of rural water supply and sanitation in Upper Nile State's
infrastructure ministry. "That is how Malakal is - and now with the
rains, all the human waste is washed into the river."
survey by the NGO Relief International in 2007 found that 80 percent of
the residents had no access to latrines or any other toilet facilities.
“The problem is just as serious in many other parts of Upper Nile
State,” Benjamin Majok, the organisation’s community programme officer,
told IRIN in Malakal.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF),
quoting the findings of a 2007 household survey in Sudan, said only 7.5
percent of the population in Upper Nile practised improved sanitation.
poor sanitation is associated with low levels of knowledge on good
hygiene, limited access to safe water and the flooding situation which
Malakal has witnessed," Swangin Bismarck, UNICEF Southern Sudan
communication officer, said.
Speaking at a workshop to discuss
the problem on 25 April in Malakal, Olwak said: "We need to give
priority to hygiene promotion to change people’s sanitation and
hygienic behaviour, practices and attitudes.
the civil war [decimated] the department of water supply and sanitation
to a level where it is virtually non-operational," he added. "For
example, we are planning to drill 30 boreholes, 15 school latrines and
1,000 household latrines in the state, but we do not even have a
The war, according to a report of the 2007 work plan
for the infrastructure ministry, also created a shortage of technical
staff, making it difficult to conduct geophysical studies in some areas
before boreholes could be drilled. In western Upper Nile, 22 water
points constructed during colonial times were damaged.
participants, including NGO and government representatives, said lack
of water management committees in all but one of Upper Nile’s 12
counties, inadequate government support, open defecation, lack of
awareness and lack of waste disposal systems were some of the major
factors responsible for poor sanitation and lack of clean water in
But where latrines have been provided a change had been noticed. A study of be havioural change by the NGO Solidarités
in El Luakat and El Mattar suburbs of Malakal found that latrine use
went up from 16 percent in 2007 to 26 percent with an increase in
facilities from 5 to 35 percent.
This was after the
organisation had built 85 family latrines for more than 1,000 people,
with a small water treatment plant. Dehu Carole, Malakal base manager
for Solidarités, told IRIN: "Our experience shows that when latrines
are [made available], people will use them."
week, from 17 to 20 March, was intended to scale up hygiene and health
information across Upper Nile and in Malakal town. School children were
taught songs on hygiene and some parts of the town were cleaned, but
aid workers say very little was achieved.
More urgently, the
government and NGOs worry the wet season could mean Malakal being hit
by acute watery diarrhoea or at the worst, cholera. "We are getting
ready, in case of an outbreak during the rainy season that has
started," Carole said.
UNICEF, which has provided core support
to the water and sanitation sector in the state, has, with its
partners, embarked on erecting seven 2,000-litre water purification
points throughout the town.
It is also involved in hygiene and
sanitation awareness, and encouraging improved waste management. Slabs
are also being provided to help families erect pit latrines, along with
construction of school and health-centre latrines.
his ministry was focusing on drilling boreholes and repairing other
water points. "We considered the first two years after the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement]
an emergency phase; now we are changing to development programmes," he
explained. "Soon we will drill 20 boreholes in eastern Upper Nile.
of the population here is … in dire need of sanitation and clean
water," the minister added. "These people cannot realise the benefits
that peace brought, unless they receive these services."
NGOs were providing kits to some locals to dig latrines, encouraging
hand-washing and teaching improved sanitation and hygiene in schools.
Chlorination kits were also being procured in case of a diarrhoea
Another key challenge was how to use Malakal radio
to create awareness on key hygiene and sanitation messages in different
local languages including Dinka, Nuier and Shilluk; and how to ensure
more government support.
"The problem is to change attitudes;
even some of our educated people defecate in the open," one participant
told IRIN. "And the government, which should lead this process, is
giving very little to the water and sanitation sector despite this
being the International Year of Sanitation."
say poverty is partly to blame. "Those who have money can buy bottled
water," said Jacob Gatluak, a "tuk tuk" taxi driver. "But how many of
us can afford a Sudanese pound [US$0.50] for a bottle of water,
especially those with a family or who have just returned from a refugee
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org