By Philip Ayuen Dot
OPINION – South Sudan is a blessed country when it comes to having water sources such as rivers and lakes. For starters, about 20% of the Nile Basin lies within South Sudan. The Nile is complemented by lakes such as Lake No, Lake Ambadi, a variety of streams and other rivers in the country. Furthermore, constant rainfall contributes more water to the country. During the dry season, areas that are not located next to a river or water source do suffer from water scarcity, but as of now, flooding has been a major problem in most places like Jonglei state.
However, water quality is a major problem in the country. About half of the population does not have access to an improved water source such as a protected well or hand pump within one kilometer. While over 51% of people do not have access to clean water. The emphasis on clean or treated water is important due to the diseases that arise from people drinking contaminated water.
Diseases such as cholera and Malaria that occasionally breaks out in the country killing hundreds of people are as a result of contaminated water being the only option available for most of the people of South Sudan. Furthermore, South Sudan is home to 98% of the world’s remaining guinea worm cases and over a third of the children under 5 years in the country experience diarrhea.
Causes of this water pollution and contamination include, sanitation problems. Fecal matter is one of the leading contaminants of drinking water. This occurs when people and animals defecate in the open or in higher areas, and when it rains the fecal matter finds its way into the rivers and lakes that people use, and thus ultimately, bacterial infections and diseases are transmitted to a community.
Another source of water pollution is oil pollution. Oil production in the country has been on the rise as it’s the main source of revenue for the government, but most companies do not adhere to environmental standards and regulations and end up polluting water sources for hundreds of thousands of people. Drinking water that has been contaminated by oil pollution is dangerous as it causes more than just bacterial infections, it has negative long term effects such as cancer, skin diseases and miscarriages in the community.
Industrial pollution is another cause of water contamination in the country. Though closely tied to oil pollution, industrial pollution includes the whole process of leaving open waste pits and contaminated water and soil which contain metals such as mercury that have harmed the community around. Companies such as the Chinese-led Dar Petroleum Operating Co and the Greater Pioneer Operating Co, have been consistently called out by various organizations for the open waste pits that lie around in their area of operation. But besides a lot of promises, communities such as Paloch continue to have children born with birth defects and miscarriages among other contaminated water problems
But besides water pollution, another problem that the country faces is access to clean water. In the towns, clean water is expensive to buy for most households. Thus despite its availability, some households are forced to use water from the nearby river that is contaminated or polluted.
But all is not lost. Water quality is one of those solvable problems when people, governments and the community are involved in it and work together. The first step is for the government to take making clean water available to everyone a priority. This means digging wells, making water treatment facilities in all areas near water sources and providing sanitation services. All these except sanitation services are usually a one off thing making them very viable. For example, once hundreds of wells are dug, the only money they shall ever need in future is for maintenance.
The other thing is creating awareness to the communities on what they can do to avoid getting waterborne diseases. From simple practices such as boiling drinking water, to ensuring that the location of toilets is not in such a way that it can contaminate underground water sources such as wells, to washing hands after the toilet and before eating , to using locally available materials to make small water treatment systems. All these are under what is known as the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), a public health technique that South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) offers to communities when funds are available.
The other way to ensure that people drink clean water is by regulation by the government. Vendors play a big role in bringing water to people, but it shouldn’t end there. They should be regulated to only buy water from tested and licensed water treatment facilities, and their trucks and jerry cans should be clean at all times and not mix treated water with untreated water.
The government should also have clear guidelines on water standards. This will curtail the industries and companies draining off untreated waste water from their oil production sites or industries into rivers. It will force them to either clean the water to acceptable standards or face fines and jail terms. As of now WHO standards on water should serve us well as they are globally acceptable.
Testing of water in the country is the bridge between people knowing if the water they are drinking is clean or not. South Sudan Environmental Advocates(SSEA) is looking for willing partners who can fund testing of water sources, creating community awareness on water quality and what they can do about it and even helping the government draw up a water policy and act. The clean drinking water is one of the best preventive measures and solutions against water borne diseases such as cholera in the country. Clean drinking water is a right of everybody and every living thing in South Sudan. Let safeguard our water resources from contamination because a healthy water means healthy life in the world.
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