TUE 23 - 7 - 2019
Apr 5, 2019
South Sudan, where a water crisis is leading to child kidnappings and rape
For a split second it looked like the young South Sudanese woman and her baby, swaddled in a cloth-carrier on her back, were taking a breather from the heat of the day under a tree.
But then Mary, 25, a mother herself, took a second look. The two motionless figures were awkwardly propped up against the trunk. The bodies were stiff. Both had died from dehydration.
This is Boma, a state in South Sudan that is suffering from one of the country’s worst water shortages.
The world’s youngest country has been ravaged by a brutal five-year civil war that has killed over 400,000 people and pushed its population to the brink of famine. That conflict nominally ended in September, with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the rebel group led by Riek Machar signing a historic peace deal.
But six months on, a simmering humanitarian crisis is threatening to unpick the tense truce.
And water, though often ignored, is now at the heart of a new wave of unrest.
Nearly 80 per cent of the country has no access to clean water, according to the government water authority, which said vital infrastructure has been destroyed in the fighting.
With climate change driving up temperatures, water resources for cattle and agriculture are also in dwindling supply.
The shortages have sparked armed conflicts between several of the country’s 60 or so ethnic groups and could be the tinder box for fresh conflict in the future, officials have warned.
Caught in the crossfire are women, who are responsible for fetching water supplies even if it means making long and dangerous journeys.
Mary says she found the bodies along the dirt track that leads to a water pump from Gumuruq, a remote village only accessible by helicopter and a long drive on dirt track roads.
In this area, dozens of bore holes were destroyed in the civil war and so it is a treacherous eight-hour hike to the nearest water pump.
Along the way, women risk dying of thirst or hunger, as well as being attacked and even raped by men, who in the searing heat of the dry season ambush them for their jerry cans.
This, aid agencies say, is not a unique phenomenon for South Sudan – across the world, women are often the water fetchers and face similar violence.
Mary and five women who sit beside her all say they have been ambushed fetching water. One had been raped at gunpoint.
“I personally know 10 people who have died from thirst in the last 12 months, at least three already this year,” she tells The Independent from a tukul, or mud-packed reed hut, in her village.
“It is a common problem and it is going to get worse in the next few weeks, which is the peak of the dry season.”
“We have all been attacked walking to the bore holes. Water is scarce and the dry seasons are getting longer. This year we expect the number of deaths and attacks to be even higher.”
South Sudan is limping through one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Four million people have been displaced internally or externally, while more than two-thirds of the country, or 7.1 million, rely on aid to survive.
Last month, the United Nations said that 1.5 million were on brink of starvation, and tens of thousands are already in famine.
Despite the peace deal, battles still rage in southern regions between the army and a rebel force that refused to sign the September deal.
Even the signatories to the agreement are wary of each other. The deal set a deadline for all sides to screen their respective forces and unify them into a national army before the formation of a unity government in May.
None of these steps have been completed yet.
But amid the mesmerising overlap of woes, water should not be an issue.
The Independent 4 April 2019
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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