In the new country of South Sudan, civil war has broken out between the President and the Vice President’s political factions, and their respective ethnic groups. Coupled with the especially harsh desert conditions, millions of South Sudanese are facing famine and displacement. For these refugees of the civil conflict, access to clean water can mean the difference between life and death, and sometimes obtaining it is nearly impossible.
Manyang Mayar knows this all too well. He was working with BBC Media Action, a charity organization operating in South Sudan, until he himself was forced to leave his home to escape the violence. While living in the bush, Manyang survived off of a bag of beans and drank from the same waters he was navigating through.
“I am one of the people who drinks very, very, dirty water of the flood in Jonglei State. There is nowhere you can find clean drinking water all over the country of course. That is a wide truth,” Manyang explains, “It is very, very difficult for these refugees to get clean drinking water. In Awerial, for example, where I lived also, people were drinking water directly from the Nile.”
The challenges these refugees are facing are unique to South Sudan’s situation as a country newly independent in 2011. “We cannot forget that South Sudan is a new country,” Manyang says, “Water infrastructures were not put in place even before the crisis started. Even in Juba city, most of the people are drinking directly from the river. Even in the areas where there is no insecurity, there is completely no clean drinking water.”
This lack of infrastructure, coupled with the sectarian violence and harsh desert climate, means that widespread famine is quickly becoming a reality. “The crisis has actually interrupted the agriculture in the county. There are not many people now farming the lands. There are not many people in the villages who are cultivating the land to deliver food to the market, or even for their own consumption,” Manyang says.
“They were displaced. Instead of making their own food, they are now depending on humanitarian aid to get food. In other areas humanitarian aid reaching to where they are is really very, very, difficult.”
With certain famine in South Sudan’s future, and increasing violence from the rebel groups, Manyang knows he is lucky to simply be alive and in Juba city. “We were surviving on those beans for some days,” he says, “Our beans got finished. Luckily enough, there were some fishermen around. We went in the bush near the River Nile. The fishermen were bringing out some fish from the river. We were buying those fish for survival, so both beans and fish made me what I am today.”