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Sudan: waterless days in Gereida, despite the rain

01-09-2006 Feature

In response to the critical water shortage facing the displaced at the start of the conflict in South Darfur, the ICRC installed emergency water supplies in the fast expanding camps around Gereida. ICRC delegate Jessica Barry describes the situation in the town's newest settlement, Joghana.

Well over 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in five makeshift settlements that are spread out over many square kilometres around Gereida town. Only Joghana, which houses people who fled from the village of the same name when it was attacked in April 2006, is still without ready access to water. While a permanent distribution system is being installed, the ICRC is helping out by trucking 100,000 litres of water daily to two locations in the farthest reaches of the new camp where bladder tanks have been erected to serve the needs of around 6,000 people.

  ©ICRC/J. Barry    
  Waiting for the water truck to arrive.    

 Rain can be a curse  

The rainy season has now arrived in South Darfur, turning the parched yellow desert beyond Gereida a brilliant green. Despite the sudden beauty of the landscape – with its grass and trees and exotic birds – the rain is also a curse, turning water courses into stagnant lakes and sandy roads into impassable bogs, as well as spawning water-borne diseases.

In mid-August, the water truck was unable to make its daily round to the Joghana camp for several days because of the rain. The vehicle got stuck in the soft, sticky sand and could not move. People were obliged to walk several kilometres to the next camp to get water.

Accompanying the truck one recent afternoon after the ground had dried out and the deliveries resumed, it seemed ironic that it was the rain itself that had been the cause of the IDPs'waterless days.

People rushed from their flimsy, blue tarpaulin-covered straw and matting huts when they heard the vehicle coming. Children ran forward and lined up by the tap stands in front of the bladder tank, ready to fill their jerry cans and plastic buckets. Behind them, women patiently awaited their turn. 

  ©ICRC/J. Barry    
  The children fill their buckets first while the women await their turn.    

 Temporary measure, welcome reprieve  

Forty-year-old Koubra Mohammed Ahmed later recalled how difficult the previous few waterless days had been.

" I came here with 14 children and my elderly parents four months ago, " she commented. " My father is blind. Life is very hard. When the truck didn't come these past days, I had to walk to that distant spot to get water, " and she pointed to where the outskirts of the adjoining camp could be seen in the far distance. 

" I was glad when I saw the truck coming this afternoon, " she went on, " because I need a lot of water for my family. "  

Once everyone had filled their containers and the bladder tank had been replenished, the truck moved on to the next location, leaving Mrs Ahmed to stagger home with her jerry cans.

Although a temporary measure, the trucking to the bladder tanks will continue – weather permitting – until the permanent water system has been installed. Once that happens, Mrs Ahmed and her neighbours will no longer have to depend on others for their water, or be stopped from receiving it because of the rain.