South Sudan: Clean water for Rom

South Sudan: Clean water for Rom

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Sasi Luxmanan

“We were drinking unclean water before CARE came. We feared our children would fall sick from drinking water from the river and the swamp,” Rebecca Utou told me when I met her in Rom, a small town north of Malakal on the Nile River.

My name is Sasi Luxmanan and I run CARE’s program in Upper Nile state in South Sudan. A few months ago, CARE installed a water treatment plant in Rom. I’m not talking about a big concrete building here, but a simple system of pumping river water through two barrel-sized filters to remove dirt and mud. Chlorine is added to kill off pathogens, to produce the kind of water we all like to drink.

A water treatment plant is especially important in South Sudan where water is often sourced straight from places like rivers and swamps. Water gathering is women’s work here, and the women often have to travel long distances to fetch water for their families. It’s hard work. They carry the water on their heads, in huge jerry cans I would struggle to carry in my arms. It’s also dangerous work, and they’re often victims of sexual assault and violence.

The water treatment plant sits by the river, so it’s easily accessible. The water it produces is clean, there’s plenty of it – about 10,000 liters per day, enough for almost 700 people.  Once we complete work on extending the pipeline, this plant will serve even more of the Rom community.

The plant has made a huge difference to people like Rebecca Utou. Rebecca’s home in Rom is a camp for Internally Displaced People, or IDPs. She’s one of more than 1.5 million South Sudanese displaced by the violence that began almost a year ago. She used to live in Baliet, 105 kilometers away, where she and her husband owned a small business. When fighting began in December, soldiers looted both the family’s home and business, before burning both buildings to the ground.

Together with their four children, Rebecca and her husband have been in Rom since the start of the year, surviving whatever way they can. Rebecca hasn’t been able to establish a business here and her husband isn’t working. “If we get food, we will eat it and if we don’t get food, we can stay without eating and give the food to our children,” she told me.

There are around 20,000 people living in the camp. They’ve come from all over Upper Nile state and beyond. Conditions are harsh. Most people live in shelters made of tarpaulins and wood they’ve gathered from what’s left of the trees here. When it rains, which it does a lot in the wet season, homes flood and so do pit latrines.

Clean water and sanitation are especially important in places like the IDP settlement, where so many people live so closely together. In addition to the water treatment plant, CARE has built latrines and conducted hygiene promotion campaigns, making sure people wash their hands and don’t drink contaminated water.

“I like the work of CARE,” Rebecca told me. “Before CARE came here, people were using the forest or open spaces as toilets. I want to thank CARE for helping this community with water and sanitation facilities.”

Of course, clean water and good sanitation are important, but what this country needs more than anything else right now is peace. Rebecca is 54 years old. She’s already lived through the long hard years of South Sudan’s battle for independence. She never thought she would have to face another war again. “My prayer,” she said, “is that we will have peace and my family can rebuild my life in Baliet.”


A completed water treatment plant will provide clean water or the people of Rom.