Lack of clean water leaves 5 million in South Sudan at risk of disease: UNICEF

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Abuk Garang lives in a village on the outskirts of Aweil town, in northwest South Sudan. Every day, she walks about four kilometres to fetch water at this well.

The 15-year-old carries 25 litres of water in a container all the way back home.

An ongoing drought in the country has left many residents like Abuk without access to clean water, forcing them to draw the little water they can from wells that are already running dry.

“We only take a meal in the evening as we are unable to cook in the morning because that is the time when we collect water,” she said.

South Sudan has been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death in 2011.

The country is facing a deadly blend of conflict, economic hardship and poor rains.

The drought has worsened the situation in the oil-rich country which has been mired in civil war since President Salva Kiir, sacked his deputy Riek Machar, in 2013.

The fighting has forced 3 million people to flee their homes, split much of the country along ethnic lines and paralysed agriculture, prompting the U.N. to declare last month that parts of the country are suffering from famine.

Only 41 percent of children have access to clean water in the country and the drought has further exacerbated the situation, leaving water points dry.

This acute shortage of clean water is posing an additional threat to hundreds of thousands of severely malnourished children in South Sudan as it can lead to an increase in life threatening waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.

Aid agencies are working to rehabilitate old boreholes and increase water points as well as sanitation facilities for communities.

Half of the water points in the country have been damaged or destroyed according to UNICEF and the scarce water sources available are being overused.

“About 5 million people in the country don’t have access to safe water. Why is safe water so important for nutrition? — Because if you don’t have safe water, you are liable to catch either a waterborne disease or get diarrhoea. A simple bout of diarrhoea can induce malnutrition really in a matter of days. And if that malnutrition is severe, the child will die,” said Jeremy Hopkins, the UNICEF acting country representative in South Sudan.

“I feel nice about my body when there is water. If there is no water, I will not feel good because I’m unable to bathe,” said Abuk after using water from a rehabilitated well on the outskirts of Aweil town.