Internal Conflict and Water Insecurity in South Sudan
South Sudan has been in a civil war since December 2013. As a result, millions uproot themselves and thousands die. Essential resources are scarce, particularly for the most vulnerable people. Specifically, water insecurity in South Sudan is a major crisis within the country. Moreover, this water insecurity permeates both the lack of drinking water and essential water for sanitation.
The South Sudanese Conflict
South Sudan’s people are currently engaged in a civil war between the government (led by President Salva Kiir) and the opposition rebels — led by former Vice President Riek Machar. The country splits along ethnic lines, which primarily determine where support lies. That is to say, the president is supported by the Dinka and the former vice president’s opposition forces, supported by the Nuer.
The conflict results in major displacement, creating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and casualties throughout the country. Due to this displacement, regular access to living resources and basic services, such as healthcare and education, have been greatly diminished. Of the displaced persons, it is estimated that 40% are adults and 60% are children.
A consequence of the conflict: 7.2 million people require humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, 3.7 million people displaced — 383,000 people have died and 1.8 million children are unable to attend school.
Does the Conflict Affect Access to Resources like Water?
In short, yes. The continued violence and inability to secure stable conditions with access to utilities like clean water and sanitation have caused a major water insecurity crisis in South Sudan. The water crisis specifically presents major issues for civilian populations, including a lack of water for infectious disease prevention.
USAID outlines the extent of limited access to water in South Sudan, as a result of the conflict. The organization estimates that only about 34% of people in rural areas have access to water. Given that 84% of the nation lives in rural areas, this statistic quite alarming. Additionally, 90% of those living in poverty reside in rural areas with the aforementioned, limited (or lack of) access to water. This affects vulnerable populations like IDPs, women and children. Furthermore, it hinders their ability to ensure basic health needs like hydration and prevention of infectious diseases like cholera, hepatitis E and Guinea worm disease (GWD).
Infrastructure specifically used for water access systems has been a major resource that the warring parties target in attempts to harm the opposition forces, both military and civilian. To destroy their enemies’ access to water is to debilitate their ability to recover. Equally important, targeting water sources puts severe pressure on the civilians whom an adversary protects. Women in South Sudan particularly feel the effects of this strategy as it can take days to get to a safe source of drinking water. Women are the primary “water fetchers,” but the journey to water sources leaves them extremely vulnerable to death by starvation or thirst (during these on-foot trips). Worse still is the fact that women traveling into rural areas amid the country’s conflict puts them at risk of being killed or assaulted.
Water Insecurity, Nutrition and Disease Prevention
South Sudan’s resource security crises reveal how internal conflicts within countries do not just affect the warring parties or military; they affect civilians, infrastructure and public health alike. Water insecurity in South Sudan, especially, is one of the many resource insecurity crises that should remain a priority of USAID. The crisis shares an intimate connection to nutrition and disease prevention; addressing it will likely have multiple benefits for the citizens of South Sudan.
– Kiahna Stephens