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Warzones, water and what makes a day’s work at World Vision

World Vision
15 December 2014 by Kate Rose
Warzones, water and what makes a day’s work at World Vision

Children collect water at a World Vision constructed water point in Malakal Protection of Civilian site. Photo by Ilana Rose, World Vision

The imagination’s image of Africa is one of a forsaken dustbowl, devoid of resources or water or the means to feed its people. It’s an image that is slowly being debunked through greater exposure to this massive continent – and the 54 countries of which it is comprised. But in the countries that still make the headlines it’s hard to believe they’re anything but hopeless.

As the flight from Nairobi comes in to land at Juba it’s clear that far from being a desert, South Sudan should be a tropical paradise. Miles and miles of lush green trees seem to cradle the small buildings and huts that dot the landscape, while the broad Nile stretches out to the horizon. This is the river that, combined with the heavy annual rainfall, ensures vast swathes of the country are arable land. In fact, South Sudan’s rich agricultural history is part of the culture, and to many, wealth is still measured by cows. If you want to question your sense of perspective, get called poor by a South Sudanese colleague who insists on buying you a soft drink. He was concerned that for an Australian visitor without a single piece of livestock – “you have not even a chicken!” – the 70 cent can would blow the budget.

Local colleagues joked that South Sudan’s stretch of the Nile is the only river in the world where the fish die of old age, and World Vision programs include working to establish a fishing industry in the villages that huddle on the Nile’s banks. It’s this river that acts as a long distance highway as aid workers move themselves and goods from one place to another on barges in a country with minimal roads. The Nile does everything water is meant to do except hydrate the people who drink from it.

Rain run-off, nearby livestock and sewage all mean drinking the water can be a death sentence. The long list of bugs and bacteria to which the Nile plays host is the stuff of nightmares: dysentery, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis – just to name a few of the big hitters.

The UN Protection of Civilians area in Juba is now home to people with nowhere else to go. This girl was collecting a month’s food for her family. Photo by Kate Rose, World Vision

The UN Protection of Civilians area in Juba is now home to people with nowhere else to go. This girl was collecting a month’s food for her family. Photo by Kate Rose, World Vision

But big problems don’t always need big solutions. A World Vision Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) team headed out to Kodok to have a look at what was possible. There was already a pump system from the river that managed to generate 90,000 litres a day for the 15,000 people in the nearest villages. The problem is the water isn’t safe to drink. Consequently both World Vision and the people of Kodok had to go through a constant cycle of water purification chemical distributions. The folk of the WASH team thought they could come up with a better solution, and they did.

By putting the water straight out of the river through a process of what is essentially chemical filtration using substances that coagulate and settle particles, almost overnight the water became drinkable. Output was doubled to 180,000 litres a day, with a further expansion to 300,000 litres ensuring the 30,000 people in the area each got access to 10 litres of clean drinking water a day.

It’s one of the small miracles carried out daily by World Vision staff in the world’s newest country. Their work hasn’t been easy, and this week sees South Sudan mark the grim anniversary of conflict that started in the capital, Juba, a year ago. The fighting has been a vicious blow to a nation struggling to find its feet. Oil production has dropped, significantly affecting income; farmers have been unable to plant or care for their crops leaving much of the country’s east facing severe food instability; and despite peace talks in Ethiopia, fighting started as soon as the wet season passed. But whatever challenges South Sudan faces, her population for the most part just wants what we all do – peace, safety, security, education for our kids, food to eat and, yes, clean water to drink.

Sometimes, in this job, even in countries like South Sudan, you’re just lucky enough to see people get exactly what they want in front of your eyes. What a day at the office.

World Vision is working to provide food and nutrition, access to healthcare, water and sanitation projects and addressing the other needs of people displaced by violence in South Sudan. You can support our work through the South Sudan Crisis appeal

Kate Rose Kate Rose

Kate Rose is World Vision Australia's website editor and was recently deployed to South Sudan to support the emergency response.

 

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