Sudan: Solar power brings water to rural Darfur

21 May, 2014
May 2014, Darfur, Sudan: Ten-year-old Nuseiba fills up a bucket of water at Azerni Basic School for girls. Credit: OCHA
May 2014, Darfur, Sudan: Ten-year-old Nuseiba fills up a bucket of water at Azerni Basic School for girls. Credit: OCHA

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Azerni is the silence. Village life in West Darfur is usually accompanied by the incessant rumbling of motorized water pumps. At first, the explanation for the silence seems obvious: the pump must be broken.

But, on closer inspection, women are still chatting around the village’s water points and children are still running and playing between the lines of empty jerry-cans. Most tellingly, water is still flowing.

Azerni’s fuel-powered water pumps have been replaced with solar-powered ones. The new pumps, installed by the American NGO World Relief with funding from the OCHA managed Common Humanitarian Fund, makes for a more sustainable and cost-effective water supply.

“The numbers speak for themselves”

“The new solar powered water pumps have changed our lives,” says Al Tayeb Idris a teacher and member of the village’s water management committee. “Water now pumps daily. Before, the cost and unreliability of the motorized system meant that we were lucky if water was pumping just twice a week.”

Mohammed, World Relief’s focal point for the solar powered water pumps in Azerni, shares this enthusiasm. “The numbers speak for themselves. Operating costs for the new solar-powered water pumps are much less than what they were with the fuel powered, motorized water pumps.”

The old pumps were expensive and unreliable. Fuel alone cost the village 4,600 Sudanese pounds (about US$510) each month in addition to frequent and expensive repair costs. The solar-powered pumps do not need fuel and are much less likely to breakdown. The community only needs to spend about 800 Sudanese Pounds ($90) a month to employ a couple of security guards to watch over them.

A better life

Ten-year-old Nuseiba, a student at Azerni primary school for girls, fills her water bucket from an outside tap on the school grounds. The presence of one water tap may not seem like much but for the residents of Azerni, it represents a very welcome development. 

Before, Nuseiba and her fellow students needed to walk 15 minutes to reach the nearest water point, assuming it was working. Now the school has a constant supply of water meaning that Nuseiba and her classmates can focus their time and effort on learning. In fact all community buildings in Azerni have, or are in the process of acquiring, a water connection.

Not all private houses have been connected to the water supply. People can pay to have a tap installed in their homes, or they can collect fresh water from a public water station for a very small fee.

The water filling point is now open throughout the day, as opposed to just the morning, giving people more time to collect their water.

Durable solutions

The relative abundance and reliability of Azerni’s new water supply has had a far-reaching impact on the community. As is the case across much of Darfur, access to safe drinking water in Azerni has often been limited, creating tension between residents and seasonal nomads who migrate to the area to find suitable grazing land.

“The lack of water used to be a source of friction, often resulting in violence between the residents of Azerni and the seasonal nomadic population,”says Abdul Malik, Azerni’s Omda or village chief. “Since we have been using the solar-powered water pumps we have enough water to share with the nomads, leading to more harmonious relations.”

A glimmer of hope

These developments in Azerni offer a glimmer of hope as the overall situation in Darfur deteriorates. An estimated 325,000 people have been displaced by violence in the region since the beginning of 2014.

 “After more than 11 years of conflict and displacement, the crisis in Darfur seems to be worsening,” says Ivo Freijsen, Head of OCHA in Sudan. “The people of Darfur are heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance and this is clearly unsustainable.

“It is more important than ever that the humanitarian community finds way to help people resume a normal life. The solar powered water pump project in Azerni is a good example of how we can do this.”

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