A Crisis in a Crisis: How the displaced people of Darfur in Sudan are dealing with water shortage amid a political transition and Covid-19 pandemic

By: Lujain Fathalrahman and Yousr Abdelwahab

“How are we supposed to wash our hands constantly if we don’t even have enough water to drink?” asks Makkah, a 26-year-old woman from Uttash refugee camp. She was still young when she came to the refugee camp. “It wasn’t this bad when we first got here; I mean the first couple of months were hard, but lot of organizations came to help, and we settled in a somehow convenient situation (as convenient as a refugee camp can get),” she says.

The story of Uttash refugee camp started in 2004 when more than 50,000 internally displaced people settled in it, and what was considered at that time a temporary solution, is now the only home for more than 273,000 war survivors. 

Water queues in Uttash camp, 2020

Women like Makkah suffer on a daily basis from the lack of basic resources. Unlike most of the women in Uttash camp, Makkah is one of the few who had access to higher education and managed to finish her college. However, being from the lucky few females with a degree didn’t grantee a regular source of income; instead she has to rely on the income of her family members, but this harsh situation didn’t stop her from being active in her community. Despite everything, she volunteers in the local school to teach young kids and is an active member of the Uttash college graduates association, where a group of college graduates try to use their knowledge and connections to better the situation in the camp.

“It has always been tough here; whenever we asked before for resources or help, we were directed to humanitarian aid commission, but little by little even the NGOs decided to leave.”

“Ironically, water shortage has been one of the consistent issues in the ever-changing situation here; I think the last time we had semi-regular water supply was in 2009,” Makkah says.

Women especially suffer from the issue of water, because the burden of providing water to their families falls on their shoulders. They walk every day to the water distribution area, where they wait in line for hours to get to fill their water bottles.   

Uttash refugee camp

The water sources in the camp are the wells. Refugees carry the water from them to basins and then with cartridges from the centers’ pipes in the camp – every pipe with 4 to 6 faucets. The water is either consumed in the camp, sold from the magnets made of iron tin, through fossils (transported by B-Papir and generators), or from the valleys.

The cost of purchasing water jirkana is “2 pounds”, and Fintas is “20 pounds”, as each family consumes an average of 5-6 giromas a day. The abundance of water is considered to be average compared to the number of the population, so it is neither fully available nor scarce.

As for its efficacy (its chemical and physical properties), no analyzes have been done for it yet, but the population complains of very high acidity, and they demand treatment sooner.

The centers divided into the camp have tanks connected by pipes, and access to water is done by standing in rows at a certain time of day. Residents complain that the specified time is little and insufficient. Hence, these people, who come in very large groups, can help spread the virus. The displaced people in the camp are practicing their daily lives normally to survive, despite the pandemic.

To help protect oneself from the virus, the hands must be washed frequently with clean water and soap. However, the two are not available, and the water is characterized by high acidity and impurities, but there is no alternative at all.

In the five states of Darfur, the war displaced more than 2 million people, throwing them around to different refugee camps. These IDPs suffer from extremely harsh situations, lack of proper facilities, and basic needs; the residents of Uttash have been neglected by every government in Sudan in the past 17 years. Even the new government brought by the December revolution is yet to make any changes to the harsh circumstances.

“Over time our expectations have changed from fighting to get a consistent source of water to asking for lower prices of the ones we buy regular basis,” Mekkah adds.

Some organizations have come in to provide water, while others seek to provide sterilizers.

Some voluntary associations, including the Atash Camp Alumni Association, in addition to the youth of the resistance committees, make letters to raise awareness of the virus, its dangers and symptoms, and distribute soap boxes whenever they can.

The Alattash alumni association and the resistance committees are carrying out cleaning campaigns like Nafeer. This is done inside the camp centers, where they allocate specific days for cleaning.

So far, no cases of the virus have been recorded.

Water supply in Uttash camp 2020

About Atash camp

-Founded in 2004 in Nyala, South Darfur state, it is the second largest camp in the state, with more than 120,000 people spread over centers, 60% of them are women, and it holds 46 tribes who are interconnected with one another

-The government and international organizations had a role in establishing it

-3,198 families of newly displaced people suffer from a lack of health services, water and food, and suffer from being in the open air under the sun, without toilets

-There are an average of five members in each family

-There is an acute crisis in the water; obtaining it requires standing in long rows or traveling long distances, or sometimes even buying it.

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