You won’t miss your water until your well runs dry

We take so many things for granted in our life. And most of the things you won’t even realise that you need it, until you are out of it. When your well runs dry. When your source is empty.

Community in Jelwan happy with their first handpump in the village

I am working in the WASH sector for a few years now. And I know all the facts about the global water crises and how the lack of water is affecting many people [1]:

  • That there are 844 million people without access to safe water (which is 1 in 9 people!).
  • That mainly women and children are responsible for collecting water, which takes them up to 6 hours every day.
  • That one million people every year are dying from waterborne diseases, and the third leading cause of child death is diarrhea.
  • And it is even estimated that the time that is spent to collect water accounts for $260 billions in lost economic opportunity, globally per year.

In South Sudan you find the same problems, with one extra struggle being that the continuous conflict makes it even harder to find drinking water. When you are displaced and had to flee your home town and are in a new area far away from water sources. It also happens that water points are poisoned or purposely destroyed by the enemy.

Personally I had never experienced the lack of clean drinking water myself. In the Netherlands the water comes clean out of the tap, you can drink it everywhere! I did do a lot of wild camping where getting water is a bit more challenging, but there are often houses nearby or in the mountains always a fresh river stream. But there was always plenty, and I was prepared with a filter.

Sawyer filter set-up at our base in Normanyang

In South Sudan I actually lived in the same places with the people we served, who had no access to clean water. Far from the urban areas with hotels or brick houses, and even far from places with handpumps. So the first thing we did when we set-up our campsite was arranging our water supply. Always when we came in a new place, we carried clean drinking water for a few days (also for emergency situations). But of course you can’t bring your bottled water for a few weeks for the complete team (varying between 4-9 people). So we brought our water filters and treatment products. But then we also had to take our water from the swamps.

Women fetching water from a pool in Normanyang

I went a few times together with the women to collect water. And although I knew it was hard, I can now tell you it is actually incredibly hard. It starts with walking in the heat of the sun towards the ‘cleanest’ surface water that is accessible. This is an exhausting trip sometimes of more than an hour. Then filling your water container is actually not so easy as well. Although the water is very dark and muddy, you still want the ‘cleanest’ water, not with the dirt and duckweed that is floating on the surface and on the edges. So you need to go far into the pond or swamp. Finally you need to walk back with a 20 liter jerrycan. And then you need to make several trips, as this is not only your drinking water, but also your cooking water and bathing water for the day and for the whole family. Then when we came back at our base camp the whole water treatment process needs to start. Which also takes time and effort. And then you can drink it, but I can assure you that it still tastes like water from the swamp!

For emergency standards we calculate that the beneficiaries should have at least access to 7.5 liters of water on a day. With this you are able to survive. The officially minimum is 15 liters/person/day. Which is quite challenging as well, if you need to bathe yourself and wash your clothes with this water as well!

Using PUR sachets (a flocculant and disinfectant) to purify the water from the swamp

But we did all that. And it is possible. But also challenging. In one location we ran out of our PUR sachets, which we used to treat the high turbid water into clean water. A helicopter flight was scheduled to resupply us with food and treatment supplies, but due to bad weather the flight was canceled. We had to wait for one week for the next flight. We already rationed our water usage. There was less then half a bucket of clean water per person per day available. This gave quit some tensions in the team, as you really want to clean yourself when you arrive back at the camp after you walked through the mud for the hole day. The heavy rains made our day this time. We didn’t mind our wet tents and clothes anymore, rain means water! As we brought plastic sheets it was easy to make a small rainwater catchment system. Our well was full again.

Borehole repair in Aweil

In our emergency work we improved the access to water for a lot of people through different kind of interventions. I felt together with the beneficiaries what a change it makes when a remote village gets access to a new handpump. In the one and half year I have been in South Sudan we were able to achieve the following things:

  • 12 interventions finished where we provided access to water in 12 different places across South Sudan
  • 53 handpumps repaired (India Mark II handpumps, sometimes including platform rehabilitation)
  • 5 boreholes drilled through manual rotary jetting (this equipment makes it possible to also reach the difficult to reach areas)
  • 3 boreholes drilled with a machine drilling rig (PAT-drill 301)
  • 5 surface water treatment systems (SWAT) installed/repaired (emergency solution to treat river water with aluminium sulphate and chlorine into clean drinking water)
  • 26 pump mechanics trained
  • 3,045 households received PUR or Aquatabs during cholera outbreak (treatment products to make clean drinking water at household level)
  • 440 households received bucket chlorination during cholera outbreak (every jerrycan received a shot of chlorine at the water points)
  • A total of 57,971 people received access to sufficient and safe water for domestic use (at least 7.5 liter/person/day)

Children carrying water back home in Yirol

Maybe these numbers don’t say anything to you, even to me it sounds a bit surreal. Or they might be meaningless, especially if you think about all those people who are still drinking the dirty black water from the swamps. But just imagine, if your well runs dry, what it will do to you if you get that one drop of clean water!

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.

[1] Accessed on 15 September 2018 on
For further reading:

5 thoughts on “You won’t miss your water until your well runs dry

  1. Aangrijpende persoonlijke ervaringen. Verder een prima technisch overzicht van je werkzaamheden in Zuid Soedan. Erg knap gedaan.


  2. Ha die Annegreet, erg aansprekend dat je zelf naar de poel bent gegaan en het hele proces hebt doorgemaakt van ‘verlangen naar water’ en het water zelf moeten zoeken en vinden en halen – en dat het dus ook zomaar kan gebeuren dat je even een purifier ter beschikking hebt. Mooi om te lezen, dank! liefs Hester


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