When South Sudan officially gained its independence in 2011, there was an optimism about the future but also an understanding that there was much work to be done. Almost 20 years of civil war had taken their toll, destroying infrastructure, knowledge, and culture vital to the successful growth of a nation, and leaving South Sudan among the least developed nations in the world.
Although about 80% of South Sudan’s population depended on agriculture for survival, the knowledge needed to farm successfully had been all but lost in the civil wars, as farmers had abandoned their land or were killed. Most of the farming was rain-fed and, although South Sudan has a reasonably high average rainfall, the highly seasonal nature of the rains posed a variety of challenges. Floods were likely during the wet season, damaging and destroying what crops the agriculturalists could cultivate. The dry season would bring an increase in competition for water resources especially between agriculturalists and pastoralists, leading to conflict between these groups as well as among pastoralist groups.
Damage to infrastructure also took its toll on service delivery, which had a serious impact on the supply of potable (or “improved”) water and sanitation. In 2010, only about 68% of South Sudan’s population used improved water. Only 13% used adequate sanitation facilities. This lack of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) posed a threat to public health, particularly among children.
A strategy to help build a new country
As part of a larger international effort to strengthen and build up post-independence South Sudan, in 2011 the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Sudan presented the Multi-Annual Strategic Plan South Sudan 2012–2015 (MASP) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved it.
A budget of EUR 203,448,000 was earmarked for spending on projects with the thematic areas of security and the rule of law, food security, and water. Water for Eastern Equatoria was one of these MASP programmes. This programme was awarded to a NIRAS-led consortium and originally planned to run for five years with a long-term, 15- to 20-year focus.
The EUR 28.4-million programme had both a technical assistance and fund management component and was active in the Torit and Kapoeta States of the Eastern Equatoria region and focused on two main objectives:
- developing and implementing an integrated water resource management (IWRM) approach for the Kenneti Watershed, which is inclusive of ecosystem functions, biodiversity/conservation, water for livestock, crop production, and rural and urban safe water supply
- and improving the access to and management of water for productive use and safe human consumption, by implementing affordable and improved traditional and innovative technologies for water capturing, abstraction, and storage in the Kenneti Watershed and selected areas of Greater Kapoeta.
Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme is a national IWRM pilot project and as such, the lessons learned should be used for possible replication of the concept, and successes and best practices should be scaled as far as possible in Eastern Equatoria as well as to other parts of South Sudan.
In pursuing these goals, the programme focused on three interrelated components:
Component 1: IWRM for the Kenneti Watershed through the improvement of government staff and non-governmental stakeholders’ knowledge and capacity; improvements to the planning of infrastructure for productive water use; and the integration of safe water and improved sanitation in the IWRM system.
Component 2: Water for productive use – improving knowledge and technical management capacity of local authorities’ staff, communities, groups, and individuals for the productive use of water; enhancing food security and economic development through increased productivity and improved water storage infrastructure; strengthening livelihood coping systems through investments in the harvesting of non-timber forest products; and facilitating private sector development in relation to food and agricultural production and related services.
Component 3: The implementation of WASH by constructing and rehabilitating safe water and sanitation infrastructures and facilities; implementing comprehensive hygiene promotion programmes; improving local government and communities’ knowledge and capacity in WASH planning, maintenance, and operation; and facilitating private sector investments in the WASH sector.
Celebration in Lobuhanga village in Lopit West County of achieving open-defecation-free (ODF) status.
To aid in fulfilling these objectives by stimulating the establishment and growth of a water sector in the target area, Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme established a fund that provided grants to non-governmental organisations, national and international public and private sector organisations and companies, as well as national and international educational and research institutions such as universities. The management of the fund required the setup and implementation of the fund’s legal basis, rules and guidelines, governance structures, funding mechanisms and fund transfer procedures, communication plan, auditing (monitoring and evaluation) function, and financial management systems and procedures. Infrastructure construction works are tendered, so that contractors are awarded contracts based on competitive bidding.
Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme started on 1 November 2013, with Phase 1 was planned to take place over three years, but on 15 December 2013, a new war broke out. The project only mobilised the first phase in 2014 and the team has to evacuate in July 2016 for two months due to fighting. A new team leader - Ole Stokholm Jepsen who has extensive experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fragile states - was brought in to continue with Phase 2.
Making a difference in the face of conflict
The onset of the war had far-reaching consequences for the people of South Sudan. Living conditions drastically worsened across the country, with access to potable water falling to 55% of the population and access to sanitation to under 9%. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this conflict, with estimates going as high as 350,000 people when taking into account the effects of factors such as violence, illness (mostly due to bad water conditions), and malnourishment caused by several factors such as skyrocketing food costs due to a collapsing currency, extreme weather conditions further exacerbated by global warming, and the deaths and displacements of farmers that left farm land abandoned.
As a result of these conditions, millions of people were left without food and potable water, and the number kept growing with every year the conflict continued. In the face of the war and the ever-intensifying humanitarian crisis that resulted from it, the Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme had to adapt its goals and methods in response to the realities of conditions on the ground.
The programme expanded its services in direct response to the humanitarian situation as it unfolded. In addition to the main components planned for the programme, Ole and his team received an additional mandate to develop quick-impact interventions to address the problems of insufficient food production and lack of income generation. This combination of short-term intervention with long-term sustainable development was only one of several changes to the programme’s approach to adapt to the conditions in South Sudan. In the past year, the team has tried to activate the youth, who have little or no education, to earn an income, using sports as an entry point to develop volunteer trainers with entrepreneurship skills.
During Phase 2, the programme has also focused on supporting only those interventions where stakeholders at all levels will take ownership of and responsibility for the projects, ensuring their sustainability.
School health club training
These efforts reaped a wide variety of results. The implementation of water infrastructure improved water access for irrigation and livestock for over 20,000 farmers. The programme constructed 93 new water points and 12 solar-powered water distribution systems, and rehabilitated 200 water points, providing approximately 255,000 people with clean water. 36 schools with a total of about 16,500 students have benefited from a supply of clean water and the construction of toilets with hand washing facilities, including girl-friendly latrines catering for improved menstrual hygiene management practices.
All water facilities are provided with software services and each of the communities they serve appoints a Water Management Committee, which is then trained to undertake the responsible management of the facility's operation, maintenance, and repairs.
To solidify the programme’s efforts in what might become a period of peace after the most recent cease-fire, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Sudan has extended the Water for Eastern Equatoria Programme for one more year, until October 2019. This enables the team to make up for the time lost, during the two standby periods when conflict made work impossible, and achieve the planned objectives.