By working closely with local communities, Water for Lakes is demonstrating the potential of economic development as a tool against aid dependency and conflict.
Despite its name, many communities in the Greater Lakes region of South Sudan lack easy access to water. People in the region live in extreme poverty, with ‘accepted’ periods of the year when families will experience hunger. Cattle raiding, tribal conflict and poor infrastructure contribute to making this region one of the most challenging places to live and work, anywhere in the world.
The main source of safe water in the Greater Lakes region are boreholes with hand pumps, shared by as many as 1,200 people. Often, families are forced to walk long distances to find water. This daily struggle puts women and young girls especially at risk of violence and abuse. Due to the extreme poverty and seasonal food insecurity in the country, local people also lacked the resources to maintain their water points, leading to disrepair and loss of service.
The region presents an extremely complex working environment for consultants and their local teams. Although no bigger than The Netherlands, the poor condition of the roads means that 40-kilometre road journeys can take a whole day for a 4x4 vehicle, or more if it gets stuck. Difficult communications and a fragile security situation put a premium on maintaining close relationships with local communities.
The Water for Lakes State Programme aims to contribute to national security and reduce dependency on food aid in South Sudan by using water provision as an entry point for economic development. Communities receive access to safe water and are trained to start income generating activities to improve their livelihoods and keep the water flowing
As lead consultant we have tailored a programme that’s not only focused on the provision of hardware such as water yards and boreholes with hand pumps, but also empowers the community to take responsibility for sustainable water provision. We do this with technical training and by helping them to develop income-generating activities.
From the intergrated water resources management (IWRM) perspective, we have introduced a “needs-based” strategy for positioning boreholes, by mapping out the current locations and comparing that with population density. Another adaption is our close partnership with 20 staff seconded from the ministry and 12 community support organisations (CSOs), who provide important intelligence and support. The CSOs have proved more effective than international NGOs for training and mentoring the water user committees. Their young members are extremely motivated, and know their region, allowing for faster headway.
We have built 20 additional water yards, where locals grow vegetables and start local agriculture businesses. As the primary beneficiary of improved water access, the programme is especially focused on women who can spend less time fetching and carrying for their families. Now, carriers are more likely to find water within a more localised and therefore safer zone.
Every month, the CSO teams visit 650 new and rehabilitated water points, where we also offer mentoring to the local community members. Of those communities, two thirds are considered as proactive, and close to 330 have started income-generating activities such as vegetable growing, keeping goats and opening small businesses like a bakery. Women are also encouraged to set up small business through village saving and loans associations.
Through mentorship and community funds, we have encouraged ownership of the water points. Breakages do happen, but 86% of boreholes are operational at any given time. The committees are now putting money aside, buying spare parts and even lending out money for income-generating schemes. With increased responsibility, the committees are rising to the challenge.
They appreciate that if they can fix the boreholes after we’ve gone, they can be self-reliant in perpetuity. Our work with the seconded staff and CSOs has added another sustainability dimension to the programme. For example, we originally used international consultants to carry out geophysical surveys for the boreholes, but now that technical work is carried out by the ministry staff.
Read the stories of some of the South Sudanese people who have been involved in the Water for Lakes project.