Water crisis batters war-torn Sudan as temperatures soar

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: War, climate change and man-made shortages have brought Sudan – a nation already grappling with a litany of horrors – to the shores of a water crisis.
“Since the start of the war, two of my children have walked 14 kilometers (nine miles) every day to get water for the family,” said Issa, a father of seven from North Darfur state.
Under the scorching sun, as temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Issa’s family – along with 65,000 other residents of Sortoni IDP camp – suffer the brunt of the war between Sudan’s army and forces Rapid Support Paramilitaries (RSF).
When the first shots rang out more than a year ago, most foreign aid groups – including the one running the local water station in Sortoni – could no longer operate. The residents were left to fend for themselves.
The country in general, despite its numerous water sources, including the mighty Nile River, is no stranger to water scarcity.
According to the United Nations, even before the war a quarter of the population had to walk more than 50 minutes to fetch water.
Now, from the western deserts of Darfur, through the fertile Nile Valley and to the Red Sea coast, a water crisis has hit 48 million war-weary Sudanese who, according to the US ambassador to the United Nations on Friday, are already facing “the largest humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet”.
About 110 kilometers east of Sortoni, deadly clashes in North Darfur’s besieged RSF capital El-Fasher threaten access to water for more than 800,000 civilians.
The medical organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Friday that fighting in El-Fasher had killed at least 226 people.
Just outside the city, the fight over the Golo reservoir “risks cutting off safe and adequate water to around 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 called for an end to the siege of El-Fasher.
If this continues, hundreds of thousands more people who depend on the area’s groundwater will be left without it.
“The water is there, but it is more than 60 meters deep, deeper than a hand pump can reach,” according to a European diplomat with years of experience in Sudan’s water sector.
“If the RSF doesn’t allow fuel in, the water stations will stop functioning,” he said, requesting anonymity because the diplomat was not authorized to speak to the media.
“For a large part of the population there will simply be no water.”
Already in the nearby village of Shaqra, where 40,000 people have sought refuge, “people are queuing 300 meters long to get drinking water,” said Adam Rijal, spokesman for the civilian-led General Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur.
In photos he sent to AFP, some women and children can be seen huddled in the shade of lonely acacia trees, while most suffocate in the scorching sun, waiting their turn.
Sudan is being hit hard by climate change and “you can see this most clearly in the increase in temperature and intensity of rainfall,” the diplomat said.
This summer, the mercury is expected to continue rising until the rainy season arrives in August, bringing with it torrential floods that kill dozens of people every year.
The capital Khartoum sits at the legendary meeting point of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers, but its people are thirsty.
The Soba water station, which supplies water to much of the capital, “has been out of service since the start of the war,” said a volunteer from the local resistance committee, one of hundreds of grassroots groups coordinating aid in times of disaster. war.
Since then people have been buying “untreated water from animal carts, which they can hardly afford and which exposes them to diseases,” he said, requesting anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Entire neighborhoods in northern Khartoum “have been without drinking water for a year,” said another local volunteer, asking to be identified only by his first name, Salah.
“People wanted to stay in their homes, even during the fighting, but they couldn’t resist without water,” Salah said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the fighting eastwards, many to the de facto capital of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, which faces a “huge water problem” that will only get worse “in the summer months”, resident fears Al-Sadek Hussein.
The city depends only on an inadequate reservoir for its water supply.
Here, too, citizens rely on horse- and donkey-drawn carts to deliver water, using “tools that need to be monitored and controlled to prevent contamination,” said public health expert Taha Taher.
“But with all the displacement, obviously that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Between April 2023 and March 2024, the Health Ministry recorded nearly 11,000 cases of cholera – a disease endemic to Sudan, “but not so” when it became “year-round”, the European diplomat said.
The outbreak comes with the closure of most of Sudan’s hospitals and the United States warning on Friday that a famine of historic global proportions could erupt without urgent action.
“Health care is collapsing, people are drinking dirty water, they are hungry and will become even hungrier, which will kill many, many more people,” the diplomat said.

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