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West Darfur: where water can blunt the causes of conflict

10-08-2005 Feature

The ICRC has water and sanitation projects underway all over Darfur, providing water to some 600,000 people. Two-thirds of those who benefit – local residents and the displaced – are in the state of West Darfur. A report by the ICRC's Marco Jimenez Rodriguez.

ICRC water specialists in Sudan, along with health authorities and the Sudan Red Crescent, are working hard to meet the deadline they have set – for the end of August – to restore the water supply to full capacity at a hospital in West Darfur.  

Work at the 200-bed facility is just one of the projects underway in the state capital of Geneina, where people displaced by the violence in Darfur have swollen the population to around 180,000. The influx has strained the town's ability to meet water, food and health needs.
In June 2004 the town's water ne twork was working at only 20 per cent of its capacity, distributing water to the population just once a week. This led to the outbreak of hepatitis " E " – a liver disease spread by drinking water contaminated by faecal matter.
Today, many boreholes, pumps and storage tanks in Geneina have been repaired, increasing the network flow to 50 per cent and providing 600,000 litres of water – slightly more than three litres per person daily. Work is ongoing to bring production up to a million litres of water a day.
The ICRC started its water-related activities in West Darfur in June 2004. It was one of the first agencies working there, but it now coordinates with Oxfam and Save the Children, covering some 40 per cent of basic needs.
Its water and sanitation strategy consists of rehabilitating existing water infrastructure and increasing its capacity, rather than building new water facilities. " Projects should be short, feasible and have a quick and effective impact on the population, " explains Munir Hashem, the engineer coordinating the ICRC's water projects in the state.
Due to the desertification process, by which the desert moves southwards a few kilometres every year, there is growing competition for natural resources, such as water and arable land. This has modified traditional migration routes and disrupted the balance between migration, commerce and agriculture.
" True to the organization's protection mandate, ICRC water projects also take into consideration some of the reasons behind this conflict, " says Munir Hashem. " That is why most of our activities in West Darfur are concentrated in rural areas along the Sudan/Chad border area: we try to respond to the water demand of populations moving along that line, hopefully lessening the confrontation and competition for water " .