[Malual Kon, Bahr el-Ghazal, Southern Sudan 42°C] This morning, like every morning, I wake up with the sounds of roosters clucking, children playing, and neighbours beyond the compound fence discussing the beginning of their day.
I make my way from inside my canvas tent on the Save the Children (UK) compound, and walk the narrow cement sidewalks past the tents and tukuls of others toward the washrooms and the outhouses at the far end of the compound. From a metal drum half-filled with water, I scoop water into a wash basin and carry it to one of the three washrooms. There is no running water here nor anywhere in Malual Kon. More than half of the population of the town has returned here since 2007. The war has been over for four years and their exile in northern areas of Sudan—or in neighbouring countries—has ended with their return to their homeland. Since I arrived last week, my time is spent visiting various villages and speaking with villagers about the situation they live in as recent returnees in a severely underdeveloped part of Sudan.
After my wash, I return to the tent, gather my things and leave the compound through the front gate that faces the Malual Kon’s airstrip. Staight ahead, across the runway, are three immense World Food Program (WFP) warehouse tents. A dozen men have already started to unload the first of six trucks filled with essential foodstuff (sugar, salt, oil, flour, rice, etc) that arrived yesterday. This is most often provided in Work for Food programs that encourage villagers to work on projects like digging wells and making bricks for the benefit of the community.
I walk toward the roundabout and turn right along an unnamed road toward the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Compound. Today, like every day since I arrived, I will visit a village or two that receives CIDA-funded livelihood or infrastructure support from IOM. The communities in these villages are highly impacted by the return of an overwhelming ratio of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who’ve come from the north of Sudan.
These communities (I’ve already visited seven villages) are in need of basic infrastructure like safe drinking water from nearby wells or boreholes. Like primary and secondary schools. Like vocational training and a means of earning an income. Like access to medical services in nearby clinics. Every village I visit needs most of these things. All of the villages need more sources of potable water.
Today, I get into the front passenger seat of the IOM truck with the capital letters ‘U’ and ‘N’ on the from hood and a blue IOM flag waving from the CB antenna bolted onto the front bumper. Deng Mareng Deng, IOM’s community mobilizer, and my interpreter, gets into the back seat and we drive out of the compound, past the airstrip, around the WFP warehouses and head north to the village of War Faj.
War Faj is the first village I visit in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal toward the border with Southern Darfur. It is remote and deep in the bush along back roads barely larger then the land cruiser we are driving in. Goats scurry out of the way as we drive past and herds of cattle barely glance at our passing.
A few villagers greet us under the tree in the central area as we drive in. The largest tree in any village is always the central meeting place where the most amount of people can gather in the shade. We greet with handshakes and are are directed to seats under the tree. More than 80% of the villagers here have returned from the north of Sudan in the past two years, putting pressure on the water resources that were already direly lacking.
From under the tree, we sit while other villagers arrive and settle along the circumference of the shade. They bring chairs from nearby tukuls or stand among the others. the children sit on the ground. We begin with introductions and spokespeople are chosen. Each one comes up and tells me their story: where they have
returned from their wartime displacement; what is the water situation in the village; that there are not more women present because most of them have walked miles away to a nearby village that has a borehole to collect their family’s water needs for the day; that they would offer us water but they haven’t any even for themselves; the list goes on with each intervention. Five people speak in total; three men and two women.
The last speaker is a woman who invites us to the village’s only water source: a large hole in the ground with a trickle of brackish water that gathers into a small pool. It takes thirty seconds to one hour to fill one plastic gerry can. And the water is not clean. It causes waterborne diseases like Giardia, Cholera, Dysentery and others. IOM has War Faj on their list of recipients of a borehole pump. The villagers could not imagine it arriving soon enough.