The United Nations declared March 22 as World Water Day in 1993, to help draw attention to the vital importance of fresh, clean water. According to the U.N., some 2 billion people across the globe drink unsafe water. And every day, more than 1,000 children die from water-borne illnesses caused by dirty water and unhygienic living conditions. Samaritan’s Purse has helped lead the fight to provide safe drinking water around the world. South Sudan, which became the world’s newest nation in July 2011, represents one of those bright spots—even as the country has suffered from war.
Radoa and Atoma remember all too well the initial struggles they and other refugees faced when they arrived at the Yida camp five years ago. Bombs had been raining onto their village in the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan, and they had to flee for their lives into South Sudan.
The two women were among the first wave of refugees who made the harrowing journey to the Yida Camp in August 2011. Tensions were high. Patience was thin. Food was scarce. And there was only one water hole where people had to jostle their way through livestock to stoop down and gulp water themselves and then to dunk a tattered bucket or jug to retrieve some for their families.
“The first time we came here, there was only one borehole in the host community, and we had to stand in a very long line to get water,” Radoa said. “They would just pour water into a trough, and we’d start drinking from it with the cows and donkeys.”
While that water may have quenched their thirst, drinking it triggered life-threatening consequences. Mosquitoes quickly bred in stagnant pools, and malaria spread like a brush fire. Other waterborne diseases became rampant, and children especially suffered from chronic diarrhea.
God led Samaritan’s Purse from the outset to come to the aid of the refugees in the Yida Camp. From those early days in 2011, we have provided emergency relief that spans food and water to proper sanitation and hygiene.
“If Samaritan’s Purse had not been there, we would have lost so many more people.”
“I’m thankful that Samaritan’s Purse has been standing with us,” Atoma said. “If Samaritan’s Purse had not been there, we would have lost so many more people.”
Radoa and Atoma serve together on a 10-person Water User Committee, who have been trained by Samaritan’s Purse to help keep the sites clean and orderly.
“At first, the children used to quarrel among one another when they’d come to the water point,” Atoma said. “But when we’re there, we talk to them, and now they don’t fight with each other. We feel very happy that we’re keeping them at peace. In fact, now they’re finding new friends at the water points.”
When it comes to clean water that’s safe to drink, the picture today is so much different—so much more hopeful.
During the past five years, Samaritan’s Purse has been able to steadily increase the number of wells that serve the camp population. Today, we operate 14 water points throughout Yida, providing safe water for 70,000 people—as well as for 30,000 refugees in the nearby Ajuong Thok Refugee Camp.
“Every single day, we are producing almost 2 million liters of clean water for these refugees.”
“Every single day, we are producing almost 2 million liters of clean water for these refugees,” explained South Sudan Deputy Country Director Tim Carter. “That’s equivalent to nearly 4 million bottles of water every single day. And it is all safe to drink.”
Our teams are constantly on the lookout for ways to streamline operations and to identify cost-saving measures. One area where we’ve been able to cut expenses is the amount of fuel that’s required to run each water point.
The generators to power these water points require massive amounts of fuel. In order to cut costs and create a sustainable solution for the community, we have converted four of the 14 sites to solar power. Since sunshine is readily available in South Sudan, these four water points now run solely on solar power between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That means we only need to use the generator early in the morning and in the early evening—when women and children flock to the water holes.
“As a result of reducing our fuel consumption, we’ve been able to pay off the cost of the panels in one year,” Carter noted. “We would like to convert all of remaining 10 water points to solar at some point, as funds become available.”
Samuel Tumdedo, program manager who oversees our water, sanitation and hygiene services at the Yida camp, added that these solar panels are proving to be innovative.
“They’re not only cost-efficient; they’re also environmentally friendly,” Tumdedo said.
But even more importantly, Tumdedo said he’s thankful God is using Samaritan’s Purse to empathize with the plight of the refugees and contribute to their lives.
“Water is basic, vital for human life,” Tumdedo said. “I’m grateful we’re entering in their suffering and using our talents to serve these people in Jesus’ Name and to advance the Kingdom of God.”
Moursi, an operator at one of the solar-powered sites who came to Yida from the Nuba Mountains in 2013, agreed.
“I enjoy working with Samaritan’s Purse because it’s a Christian organization that helps people by not only providing clean water but also by telling them about Jesus Christ,” he said.
Samaritan’s Purse is also making a difference in other regions of South Sudan. That includes in southern Unity State, in the central part of the country. An ongoing armed conflict there has displaced tens of thousands of people. When fighting erupted and raged throughout 2013, many had to flee into swamps to survive. As fighting died down, people were able to return, only to find their homes looted and their livelihoods destroyed.
Again, our teams have been able to come alongside those who are suffering and provide food and clean water. One innovation has been the use of a hand drill that operates just like a normal mud-rotary drill but that doesn’t require all of the energy, fuel consumption, and large equipment.
“The hand-drill has been used in neighboring countries but not in South Sudan to our knowledge,” Carter said. “It can fit on the back of a pickup truck, and you can drive it anywhere, set it up in a day and start drilling and have clean water in two days.”
Samaritan’s Purse has recently trained three local men to operate this drill. Using their hands, they spin the wheel that runs the drill, which can reach depths of 80 meters.
“We’ve drilled two boreholes already and have plans to drill more,” Carter said.
Wondimagegn “Wondi” Sine, our water, sanitation, and hygiene program manager in southern Unity State, said these men now have the skills to go elsewhere in the village to dig other wells. “It’s positive the local people are participating in the drilling work because they can feel ownership to help maintain the sites,” he said.
In the end, these wells are providing clean, safe water.
“This is very important,” said Elizabeth, who comes to the water point with her 20-liter jug three times a day to get water for her six-member family. “And that makes me very happy.”