Water in North Darfur

Girl Carrying Water on Head
Donkey with Water BladdersHorse Drawn Water CarrierWater Pump at IDP Camp

The water coming out of the taps at the Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF) guest house in El Fasher is brown. “This is what you shower in”, Mark likes to tell me everyday. “Worse, this is what you use to brush your teeth.”

Whatever… I feel pretty clean showering with sandy and muddy water after a full day at the camps under the sun, and have taken to using bottled water for the final rinse when I brush my teeth, but it is still disconcerting to see the brown water being poured into the cistern, knowing that the water will never have a chance to sit long enough for the sand and silt to sink to the bottom. For a few days, I was under the blissful delusion that the fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and arugula that we have for dinner every night were washed in bottled water, until I walked into the kitchen one day (we haven’t gotten sick)… And the water for the tea that we drink…

So everyday, when we eat, we eat sand. In the bread, in the rice, in the meat, in the vegetables. For that matter, everyday, we sleep on sand in our beds. And, my white and pale blue cotton shirts are now beige.

There is no municipal water (or consistent supply of electricity) in El Fasher. (One of the many reasons for this conflict in Darfur is the lack of basic infrastructure in the region.) Water is carried from a public source in a variety of ways:

  • In a jerry can on the head of a woman or small child
  • In jerry cans, loaded four to a wheelbarrow pushed by an adolescent boy
  • In jerry cans, sometimes two, sometimes four, tied to the sides of a donkey
  • In bags made from donkey skin, carried on the back of a donkey
  • On a horse cart in two 55-gallon drums welded together
  • In an tanker

At the CHF guest house, the water comes in two ways. If it comes in the 55-gallon drums, the horses are backed into the compound near the cistern, and the young men who drive the horse and cart empty the drums into two jerry cans and pour them into the cistern. If the water comes in a tanker, the tanker pulls up at the back entrance and empties the water using a plastic hose.

Ironically, the water in the camps is better than the water in town because that water comes from wells drilled by the international aid agencies. Half of El Fasher gets their water from young entrepreneurs in the camps who sell water by the jerry can. If your donkey can carry four jerry cans, you can make SD 100 (a little less than US$.50).

Unfortunately, the water at the CHF guest house probably comes from a seasonal pool that is used by everyone in town, particularly entrepreneurs who have set up small pumps to wash cars and trucks. I don’t know how much a donkey skin’s worth of water costs, but each set of 55-gallon drums costs from SD 600 to 800, depending on the distance the horses have to travel.

And collectively, the five of us in the guest house drink a couple of cases of bottled water a day.


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