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Taking matters into their own hands
A village in Sudan turns on the water tap

Elzahraa Jadallah
Villagers living in Alshigeag Aljaalien were tired of their limited water supply. They took matters into their own hands and together brought tapped water into their homes.
26.04.2018  |  Khartoum, Sudan
Members of the local committee in Alshigeag Aljaalien show The Niles a new water tank on March 17, 2018. (photo: The Niles | Elzahraa Jadallah)
Members of the local committee in Alshigeag Aljaalien show The Niles a new water tank on March 17, 2018. (photo: The Niles | Elzahraa Jadallah)
Turning on the tap

The villagers living in Alshigeag Aljaalien, located about 160 kilometres south-west of Omdurman in the White Nile State, relied on donkey carriages and barrels to get water from the two local wells into their homes. Having had enough of waiting in line at the well or for the donkey-carriage at home, they cooperated and brought to life a water pipeline project connecting homes with the wells.

“The project was suggested to the local committee by the Youth of Alshigeag Association, whose members live in Khartoum State, Alshigeag and abroad. They were the ones paying for most of the project,” members of the local committee explain. “We received the proposal with open arms, and we started collecting SDG 1,000 (approx. € 45) from each household as subscription fee.”

Now I have water inside my house, and I can spend my whole day farming.”

In April 2017, following a few months of intensive work, the project was completed. Tapped water from the two main wells, dug already in 1954, has since been available in almost every household. The few villagers who could not afford the initial subscription fees are served through temporary hose. All the villagers have to do now, is to open the tap inside their houses.

“I used to waste my day waiting to get water and then bringing it to the house with donkeys, reducing the time available for farming. Now I have water inside my house, and I can spend my whole day farming,” says Balla Hassan.

“The project is highly advantageous. Our ancestors dug these two wells in 1954 – first, we used water-bladders, then barrels and now we have taps,” says Omer Haj Eltyeb, the head of the local committee in Alshigeag.

“Until last April we lived in a bad situation, school children stayed thirsty until they got back home. Now we have nothing to complain about,” says Bakhita Mohamed Salih, a primary school teacher.

And apart from satisfying people’s daily water needs, the project spurs further changes according to the local committee. Now people plant trees in the streets and even plant vegetables in their backyards. Shop owners too got their share of prosperity as they don’t have to close their small shops and fetch water anymore.

Even animals enjoy this new service as Salah Haj Eltyeb, a cattle owner, explains: “In the past, herders had to wait for hours until the citizens got the water they needed. The cattle used to stand in long lines waiting for the people to get their daily water. Now there’s a whole tank for the cattle.”

Nothing is for free

Despite this leap forward, the villagers of Alshigeag Aljaalien only consider their achievement a small step forward – a small step on a long road.

So far all water is pumped into one tank from where it is distributed across the village. “A new tank was provided by the government with its pump, pipes and all equipment. However, we can’t find the funds to put it on a stand yet,” committee members explain. “We are still suffering from funding problems, and we have to pay a monthly tax to the authorities.”

“We pay SDG 7,500 monthly tax for using the wells and groundwater. The authorities didn’t show up until we finished the project. We signed an agreement that stipulates the tax, maintenance costs among other conditions required from us, and they provide the operators,” the committee says.

No citizen can be exempt or given water for free.”

“Water is a product that can be sold, bought, and replaced,” Emad M. Eisa, the Director of the Rural Water Supply Authority, says. “We make no difference between citizens anywhere – whether they live in the city or the country-side. The tax is an official fee approved by the governor and no citizen can be exempt or given water for free.”

Eisa denies that the Rural Water Supply Authority only came when the project was completed. “We came from an early stage, supervised the establishment and studied the suggested project. The citizens had accomplished their project under our supervision. The work had been done by their efforts with no official aid. However, we are supplying them with trained operators.”

The water-pumps required to fill the tanks are powered by a generator, which causes further costs for fuel and maintenance. The tax and all other expenses have to be covered by a monthly subscription fee. While fuel prices increase across the country, subscription fees remain the same – and not every household can keep up with the monthly payments. Consequently, operational costs are a lot more than the income. “We also have the issue of spare parts; they are very expensive and fake most of the time. That’s why we often have a malfunction,” committee members say.

“We use switches to distribute water between neighbourhoods as we found out that the flow didn’t reach far houses when we started the project. In addition to that, we don’t use the generators daily to avoid breakdowns and increasing expenses.” Only time will show if the villagers can sustain their water supply achievement.

A salty situation

Water flows to the taps directly with no filtration or other processing, despite the salty taste. The committee says that the wells have been used for decades and no health issues have surfaced so far.

Besides one filter that covers a few houses installed charitably all other homes use the water as it is. The local committee stresses the importance of filtering in the future. However, they can’t afford it now. Eisa says the “groundwater is known not to be polluted, and the national lab has confirmed it’s safety in 1954. The wells are working efficiently and safely.”

We have no option but to be satisfied by the project.”

“We have no option but to be satisfied by the project now if the new tank starts working it will improve our situation,” says Eltyeb, the head of the local committee, pointing out that there was another well that had collapsed in the process of installing pipes. When I asked Eisa, he said: ‘We are planning to fix it, the village has been included in the national reform programme,’ though he said that time couldn’t be determined as it’s up to the federal government to decide.

With all its challenges, the community water pipeline project initiated by the people of Alshigeag Aljaalien stands out as an example of what people can do on their own. If people engage in a joint effort, instead of waiting for officials to solve their daily problems, small steps can have an enormous impact on entire villages. And despite the remaining challenges, the journey starts with one step – and the people of Alshigeag Aljaalien have taken that step.

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Posted by on Thursday, 26 April 2018
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