When water speaks

By estevens
A girl stands near an Oxfam tap stand in a camp for displaced people in Darfur. Oxfam America and our Sudanese partner organizations are supplying water for more than 200,000 people living in camps like this.

Share this story:

Clean water flowing from a tap.

There are places in the world where it is a simple fact of life, but Darfur isn’t one of them. Under the blazing desert sun, the fact of life is thirst, and finding clean water is anything but simple. In a region plagued by conflict and banditry, trekking to a source of water can be dangerous - matched only by the risk of drinking what you find there.

Crisis within a crisis

So when Oxfam Great Britain (OGB) and 15 other aid providers were expelled from Darfur in March of 2009, everyone braced for the worst. Without agencies providing engineers to ensure the flow of water to the camps, fuel to run the generators, and public health workers to supply critical materials and information, the risk of disease epidemics was very real.

But in emergencies, it is never wise to underestimate the power of communities.

In North Darfur, the community committees and leaders who had worked closely with Oxfam were able to quickly take charge of the diminishing water supply, supervising and protecting the facilities until outside help arrived.*

And the public health volunteers didn’t miss a beat. “When an epidemic happens...it will not stop,” says one. As stocks of hygiene supplies dwindled, she and others did what they still could do. “We did not stop guiding and working with our people. We never stopped raising awareness about health.”

Meanwhile, Oxfam shifted gears. As OGB exited the region, Oxfam America – one of the few international agencies permitted to remain in Darfur - prepared for a massive scale-up. Soon Oxfam was again supplying water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene programs and materials to more than 235,000 people in the camps of North Darfur and was moving quickly to expand its programs to South Darfur.

A bright note

The armed conflict has taken its toll on survivors. Faces there are etched with grief, loss, and fear, and the tone of the camps is grave. But on the subject of clean water, sometimes a note of satisfaction or even happiness creeps in.

“The clean water we get is what we want for eating, for drinking, for bathing, for washing, for taking care of our children,” says a resident of Kebkabiya, where an Oxfam partner has taken charge of the water supply. “Because it’s clean water, we don’t have diseases or health problems. Isn’t it good!”

As the crisis in Darfur falls off the headlines yet stretches on with no end in sight, the Oxfam taps convey more than water; they carry a heartfelt message from the outside world: We have not forgotten you.

Donate now to the Sudan Crisis Relief and Rehabilitation Fund.

* In the interim between the exit of Oxfam Great Britain and the launch of the Oxfam America water and sanitation programs, a Sudanese government agency supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was able to step in temporarily to fill some of the needs, such as fuel for generators.