Families Struggle for Clean Water In Juba, South Sudan

22 March 2017

by Joe English

South Sudan is a country in crisis –violence has displaced millions of people; a food crisis has left parts of the country in famine; and a deteriorating economy has left many families with no means to support themselves.

The worsening water crisis, fuelled, in part by the conflict and economic collapse, is just one more challenge families in Juba have to face on a daily basis.

In 2015, it was estimated that only 13 per cent of Juba residents had access to municipal water -supplied mainly through a small piped network and boreholes – but this number is likely to have dropped following the violence that hit the city in 2016. Across the country it’s estimated that over half of all water points have either been damaged or destroyed in the violence.

©UNICEF/SouthSudan/PhilMoore

For those without municipal access, water is mostly provided through private sector water trucking. While the water comes straight from the river, UNICEF has been providing chlorine, which trucks must use to treat the water and reduce the spread of waterborne diseases.

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Brothers Francis, 13, and Ismail, 11, work at the water pumps every morning before school. Arriving around 6am each morning the boys fill bottles with chlorine for the water-trucks. For a full day’s work they get paid 100 SSP each (around one US dollar) which helps them buy food and school supplies.

“I want to be an engineer when I grow up” says Ismail, before throwing a bottle of chlorine on to one of the trucks. There are more than 2,000 of the water tankers in the city, but the running costs continue to increase, pushing up the price for customers.

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The lack of safe water means those living in the capital are also at risk to the spread illnesses such as diarrhoea and cholera, with children especially vulnerable to waterborne diseases, and exacerbating the already precarious nutrition crisis.

A cholera outbreak, which started in Juba in July, has already killed 137 people, and infected more than 5,000.across the country Many of those affected live in poor neighbourhoods across Juba, with little access to water and sanitation facilities.

In Khor William, in the south of the city, and one of the areas worst affected by the outbreak, I spoke to Amal, 17. A private company has set up a water pump near her home, connected directly to the Nile, but while the pipe reduces the time it takes to gather water, it’s still untreated.

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“I don’t have to walk to the river any more, which means I have more time to study, but the water is still dirty, and I worry about my younger siblings getting sick when they drink it,” she says.

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In the Ghabat neighbourhood, Louis Modi runs a UNICEF-supported water treatment centre. Water, drawn from the river, is treated with aluminium sulphate and chlorine, and the centre pumps out more than 280,000 litres of clean water a day.

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Louis explains that people come from up to 25 kilometres away to collect the water, with women and children coming to fill up the ubiquitous yellow jerry cans, often loading up full cans on wheelbarrows for the journey home.

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At the water taps outside the treatment centre, I met Luke, a bicycle water vendor. While the water is free for those who can make the journey, the vendors will deliver jerry cans of clean water to communities further afield for a small delivery fee. Luke tells me that recently, the vendors have helped contribute to the cost of the purification supplies.

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UNICEF is hoping to roll out further treatment centres to communities such as Khor William, providing families with access to clean, safe water and livelihood opportunities for bicycle vendors.

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And yet much more needs to be done, and for thousands of people, clean, safe water is still out of their reach. It shouldn’t be this way.

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For families in Juba, and across South Sudan, access to clean, safe water should be a given. They shouldn’t have to risk their children’s lives each day, just for something to drink.

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With thanks to our generous donors, including,  DFID, , Japan, OFDA, USAID and the German Government.