Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar

June 17, 2024
A man carrying a watet tanker on a donkey cart in this image. — AFP/File

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: War, climate change and man-made shortages have brought Sudan -- a nation already facing a litany of horrors -- to the shores of a water crisis.


“Since the war began, two of my children have walked 14-kms every day to get water for the family,” Issa, a father of seven, told AFP from North Darfur state.

In the blistering sun, as temperatures climb past 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Issa´s family -- along with 65,000 other residents of the Sortoni displacement camp -- suffer the weight of the war between Sudan´s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

When the first shots rang out more than a year ago, most foreign aid groups -- including the one operating Sortoni´s local water station -- could no longer operate. Residents were left to fend for themselves.

The country at large, despite its many water sources including the mighty Nile River, is no stranger to water scarcity.

Even before the war, a quarter of the population had to walk more than 50 minutes to fetch water, according to the United Nations.

Now, from the western deserts of Darfur, through the fertile Nile Valley and all the way to the Red Sea coast, a water crisis has hit 48 million war-weary Sudanese who the US ambassador to the United Nations on Friday said are already facing “the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet.”

Around 110-kms east of Sortoni, deadly clashes in North Darfur´s capital of El-Fasher, besieged by RSF, threaten water access for more than 800,000 civilians.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday said fighting in El-Fasher had killed at least 226.

Just outside the city, fighting over the Golo water reservoir “risks cutting off safe and adequate water for about 270,000 people”, the UN children´s agency Unicef has warned.

Access to water and other scarce resources has long been a source of conflict in Sudan.

The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded that the siege of El-Fasher end.

If it goes on, hundreds of thousands more people who rely on the area´s groundwater will go without.

“The water is there, but it´s more than 60 metres deep, deeper than a hand-pump can go,” according to a European diplomat with years of experience in Sudan´s water sector.

“If the RSF doesn´t allow fuel to go in, the water stations will stop working,” he told AFP, requesting anonymity because the diplomat was not authorised to speak to media.

Already in the nearby village of Shaqra, where 40,000 people have sought shelter, “people stand in lines 300 metres long to get drinking water,” said Adam Rijal, spokesperson for the civilian-led General Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur.