While water security is a major crisis facing Sudan’s rural communities, the issue is not only one facing those living in the countryside and small villages. Increasingly people living in urban areas, such as in Khartoum State, the smallest but most populous of the country’s 18 states, are struggling to access enough clean water.
The residents of a shantytown on the edge of Omdurman, the country’s biggest city, which lies across the Nile from the capital Khartoum, face a daily struggle to access clean water. They are forced to find water themselves.
“We are considered a part of Khartoum State, but we don’t enjoy its services,” says Mohamed Hassan, a worker living in “Alhila Aljadeda”, a shanty town in Dar-El-Salam, West Omdurman. “We wish to drink water from taps and have a bath with a shower,” he says.
The poor residents of Alhila Aljadida were displaced as a result of the city’s steady expansion, yet they lack the most basic services, such as electricity and running water. Many live in makeshift accommodation that provides little security or shelter from harsh weather.
While the settlement has been in existence for more than 15 years, it has no access to Omdurman’s water supply pipelines. Instead, they make do with 17 tanks that are filled with groundwater or barrels sold from the back of donkey carriages.
Khadjia Mohamed lives across the street from one of those tanks. “We have been living here for 16 years, we buy water from donkey carriages,” she says. “It’s 20 to 30 pounds a barrel, available at all times. The tank nearby is new, but we don’t know if the water is potable. That’s why we buy water elsewhere.”
The need for secure pipelines
Hassan, however, says he struggles to find adequate clean water. The tanks, he says, are not always accessible. “They are available only at certain hours of the day, and sometimes the tanks stay empty for a day or two, carriages don’t show, and we suffer from the shortage, the situation is even more serious in the peripheral areas.”
There are, however, conflicting views in the settlement, with some people saying that they have not experienced any significant problems accessing water. “We don’t have problems buying water from donkey carriages, it’s clean and drinkable, and we can have it whenever needed,” say two women buying water on the street.
Sometimes the tanks stay empty for a day or two.”
Nevertheless, they agree on the need for official water pipelines. “We ask the authorities for a proper supply so that we can have taps inside our houses.”
Local authorities say they are making efforts to ensure that clean water is provided to the settlement. “We have several wells and tanks, and it’s all potable water. All sources were studied and tested,” local committee member, Asaad Ibrahim, said, adding that there are regular inspections of tanks, wells and barrels.
Yet many barrels in the settlement appeared rusty, and one of the tanks was empty due to a pump malfunction, while another had been abandoned because the water was salty.
Ibrahim said that the committee had been appealing to the municipal government to lay proper water pipelines. “We reached out to authorities and organisations about our issue. However, no actions have been taken in this regard, just talk,” he said.
Hassan, the shanty town resident, said he had seen little evidence of any efforts on the part of the authorities. “No governmental entity of any kind came here to handle our problems,” he complained. “We are suffering. The local committee stands by the citizens, raises our issues, but we need services to be available.”
The lack of official water supply can pose serious public health risks. While many people boil their water or use traditional herbs to purify it, many others just use the water they get. As a result, there are reportedly many cases of kidney problems and allergies among the residents.
Ibrahim, the committee member, however, insists that this is due to old wells and that the current supplies are clean. “We closed the old wells, and people now use safe sources.”
A former manager of Omdurman’s official water corporation, Zain-Alabideen Babickir, said that the Alhila Aljadeda settlement doesn’t fall under the corporation’s authority, as it is not an official settlement.
Despite being in existence for 16 years, the shantytown is still considered under urban planning. “When the physical planning is finished, then people can claim their right to water pipelines,” Babickir said. “Until then we are not responsible for their water sources.”