South Sudan: Clean water remains urgent priority

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

GENEVA, Switzerland, January 31, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Hundreds of thousands of displaced people in South Sudan still lack water, food and medical care. The ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross are doing their utmost to help meet the most pressing needs.

"Hundreds of thousands of people are not getting enough clean drinking water," said Marc Suchet, who is in charge of the ICRC's water and habitat activities in South Sudan. "Security constraints and other limitations on access, not to mention the already weak water systems, make it difficult for people to obtain clean water. This is a challenge both for displaced people and for the residents hosting them."

Since fighting began in mid-December, the ICRC, in cooperation with the South Sudan Red Cross, has been delivering potable water by truck and setting up emergency water points in hospitals and prisons as well as in camps for displaced people.

"Our activities have helped ensure that displaced people in Juba, Bentiu/Rubkona, Leer, Malakal, Wunrock (Warrap state) and North Jonglei have clean water," said Mr Suchet. "So far, we have trucked over a million litres of clean water, and built water points in six different South Sudanese states."

The ICRC's efforts aim to minimize the exposure of people displaced by violence to water-borne diseases. In many places, displaced people have no choice but to consume stagnant surface water or fetch their water directly from the Nile.

"Untreated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, hepatitis, cholera and typhoid fever – all of which spread through water contaminated by human faeces," said Mr Suchet. "It is vitally important, therefore, that water engineers and other humanitarian workers be able to carry out their activities."

Since December, the ICRC has

• installed emergency systems to provide regular supplies of drinking water for more than in Malakal, Bentiu, Awerial, Wunrock and Juba;

• replaced a damaged water tank and repaired a submersible borehole pump in a prison where 1,400 people are being held;

• upgraded water facilities, delivered clean water on an ongoing basis, built latrines and erected ward tents in two major hospitals in Juba and Malakal.

As a neutral and strictly humanitarian organization, the ICRC has also been providing treatment for people wounded in the fighting, and food and relief items for displaced people. In addition, it has been restoring contact between family members separated by the violence. On several occasions, it has reminded the parties to the conflict of their obligations under international humanitarian law.