05 May 2011
A water project supported by the UN-African Union peacekeeping force (Unamid) in eight villages of North Darfur will not only facilitate residents’ access to water, but will also help to reduce sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the region, local residents and Unamid officials said.
“For years we have been afraid of being attacked while fetching water and collecting firewood; it is not always possible to move in groups and we are often escorted by men or Unamid peacekeepers,” a resident of Kuma Garadayat village, who declined to be named, told Irin News.
Kuma Garadayat, 60km from El Fasher in North Darfur, is one of the villages where the water project was launched on 26 April. The eight villages host at least 3 000 returnees.
About 30 000 rolling water containers, with a capacity of 75 litres each, the equivalent of four jerry cans, were distributed to women in the villages, all with poor access to water and severely affected by drought during the dry season.
“I hope through the water carriers, things will become easier for us; we’ll be less exposed,” the anonymous villager added.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), most SGBV cases in Darfur still occur during water and firewood collection.
Because of generally poor access to justice, a sense of impunity, and the social stigmas attached to SBGV, the international community in Darfur has launched several prevention, protection and response activities, including firewood patrols.
Hippo helping communities
The water project is one of a number of broader Unamid-backed recovery projects, which include training midwives and helping to improve health and education in villages.
Several thousand water hippos will be dispatched over the next two weeks, mainly to women heads of households, the vulnerable and people living far from water points, says Unamid.
The Hippo water roller, a South African invention, is a durable barrel-shaped polyethylene container that holds water and is rolled along the ground instead of being carried. A steel roller attached to the drum allows it to be pushed or pulled even over bumpy ground.
The Hippo roller was developed in 1992 by South African engineers Pettie Petzer and Johan Jonker. According to manufacturer Imvubu Projects, because the weight of the water is carried on the ground, even children and the elderly can manage a full roller, allowing for collection of five times more water with less effort.
Former president Nelson Mandela has personally endorsed the product.
“One of the major sources of conflict in Darfur is access to water,” said Unamid head Ibrahim Gambari in a statement.
“This project will make life easier and safer for women, and will also serve to underscore the fact that water hasn’t only been a source of conflict, it is also the solution,” he said.
“It is our hope that their [the barrels’] use will not only support former displaced persons but also help protect civilians as they return to resume their lives.”