NIRAS returns to conflict area: Ensuring water in South Sudan

A large water project has just reopened in South Sudan. This type of development project in areas of conflict is a specialisation for NIRAS.

09. May 2014

It is the youngest country in the world, and the population is in need of clean water.

Because of this, NIRAS has just reopened a large water project, despite the fact that South Sudan since its independence in 2011 has been among the top five most dangerous countries in the world.

The project works both to ensure a more even distribution of water resources and to help specific initiatives in the northeast African country, such as clean drinking water and irrigation systems for agriculture.

Back in December 2013, the project came to a halt when disturbances in the country’s capital began. However, today NIRAS has returned to the country at a time when the risk for a spread of the current cholera epidemic makes the project even more important.

An alarming situation increases the need

Danish Minister of development, Mogens Jensen has just returned from South Sudan. He describes the situation as alarming and has granted 60 million DKK for immediate emergency aid.

On top of the emergency aid, NIRAS also works to rebuild the country’s infrastructure; a task that is further complicated when working in a a conflict area with an ongoing civil war:

“We are constantly evaluating safety procedures. Fully tanked cars and drivers are standing by in case we need to evacuate the area. The project workers always carry satellite phones when working in the field and they are obligated to report back several times a day, when they work outside the office”, says project leader, Troels Andreas Kolster.

Man killed in front of hotel

These types of arrangements are necessary in a country like South Sudan, which was stressed when a man was found killed outside the team leaders hotel one morning.

“We are cooperating with other donor organisations on safety issues and we are continuously evaluating the safety of staying in the country, and luckily the project has now reopened”, says Troels Andreas Kolster.

The project both handles the general distribution of the country’s water resources for watering of cattle, irrigation and drinking water as well as more practical issues such as building toilets in villages in the federal state of Eastern Equatoria State.

“We are looking at how to slice the cake in a way that makes the country in general benefit the most from the water resource, and, at the same time, we are trying to give the poorer parts of the population better access to the water and help them find ways to utilize it for purposes such as collecting the water and saving it for periods with drought”, Troels Andreas Kolster explains.

Even distribution of water reduces instability

As part of the project, NIRAS is establishing a so-called hydraulic monitoring system to create an overview of the country’s water resources. It is important to plan and optimise the use of water supplies evenly so that the population does not need to fight for it.

“Like in other parts of the world, water is a source of conflict in South Sudan. As such, the challenge goes beyond the physical supply of water. If we can help South Sudan distribute the water supplies between drinking water, animals and agriculture, we are also dismantling a number of potential conflicts”, says International Water Director in NIRAS, Claes Clifford.

The project is financed by Dutch aid funds and, with a budget close to 30 million Euro, it is one of the largest water projects in the region.

This is far from the first time that NIRAS operates in areas of conflict. NIRAS draws from project experience in both Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali and Palestine.