Determined to deliver clean water amid bloody civil war in South Sudan


Despite almost impassable terrain and the outbreak of a violent civil war, Rotary clubs in South Sudan and Wisconsin, USA, are determined to bring clean water to one of the most remote areas of the East African country.

The Rotary Clubs of Wausau, Wisconsin, USA, and Juba, South Sudan, are developing a sustainable source of water for 10 rural mountainous villages in Tennet Boma, Eastern Equatoria. The two clubs secured a $47,000 Rotary Foundation global grant to drill a deep borehole and install solar-powered water pumps, a 5,000-gallon reservoir, and six to 10 spigots. The water source will benefit almost 14,000 people.

While the violence is concentrated at the border of the country, the comparatively peaceful interior regions still suffer from economic insecurity and a dilapidated infrastructure. With almost no government assistance, these remote areas contend with acute waterborne diseases and famine.

“The civil war has shot the economy,” says Wisconsin Rotary member John Kelly, who has traveled to South Sudan for years with Willamette International, an organization that improves health care and education in rural communities. “It’s affecting so many people. Even if you’re not directly involved in the violence, the war has destabilized almost everyone’s lives.”

The project is not without its roadblocks, both literally and figuratively. Only one road connects the cluster of villages on the steep northeast side of the Lopit Mountains to the nearest developed community. It’s a three-day walk for many villagers. During the country’s rainy season, between May and October, it’s almost impossible to get construction materials and relief aid up the mountain, which exacerbates the ongoing humanitarian crisis. “You can’t move anything in the area. The terrain is too wet and dangerous,” says Kelly.

Because the grant was approved during the flood season, Rotary members had to wait to transport equipment until conditions improved.

Also, getting to these vulnerable populations has been a challenge amid the fighting. Many areas are off-limits to aid agencies, says Mathach Deng, a member of the Rotary Club of Juba.

“Rebel forces have blocked off many of the entry points to the project site. It’s been a huge challenge to overcome,” he says.

Juba club members are working with tribal elders in the area, who carry influence with government and rebel leaders, to gain passage to the area. “The people in these areas want and need this water project to continue. Educating the tribe leaders on the importance of this project is key to getting this project complete,” Deng says.

The ongoing threat of violence caused the project’s first contractor to back out, further delaying the start of the construction. “The war has decreased the availability of contractors. But we are working with other NGOs and the government to find another one,” Deng says. “It’s not easy to convince someone to come into this situation, but we’re not giving up.”

Although there have been setbacks, Kelly says there is no turning back.

“We [Rotary] have our credibility at stake. These communities trust us to come through. It’s important to be patient in situations like these,” Kelly says. “Build relationships and contacts. Gather intelligence by working with other NGOs and agencies. The more information you have at your fingertips the better you are at navigating difficult situations.”

After successfully claiming independence in 2011, South Sudan, the world’s newest country, descended into violence in December 2013, dashing hopes that it would soon become a prosperous, self-governing nation. The country’s two predominant tribes, the Dinka and Nuer, are fighting over land and resources, a conflict that dates back to the 19th century.

Tens of thousands have already been killed in the gruesome war, which has also displaced almost 1.8 million people. On 2 February the two sides signed a fourth peace deal since the hostilities began. The previous three agreements signed by the government and rebels were broken quickly.

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