Water Arrives In Sudan’s Drought Belt

Published on 12 August 2009

Building the haffir in Sudan's parched North Kordofan region was a community effort.

Copyright WFP/Mohamed Etigani

For years, residents of central Sudan’s desolate North Kordofan state spent precious time and money to obtain water. No longer – thanks to a massive reservoir, built as a World Food Programme food-for-work project.

EL TYINA, NORTH KORDOFAN – Water is an elusive commodity in this parched region, where local farmers and nomads often pay hard-earned cash for tins of the precious liquid to meet their daily needs.

Now the rains have arrived to El Tyina, in central Sudan’s North Kordofan region, along with a more sustainable solution – a massive haffir, the Sudanese term for a traditional, hand-dug rain catchment system, built by the local community in exchange for nearly 450 tonnes of WFP food.

“The people are very happy and the local government appreciates it very much,” said Mahendra Balhubai, WFP logistics officer in El Obeid who was involved in delivering food to the project, roughly an hour’s drive away. “And this is also a lesson learned – that it is possible to make a haffir this big.”

A community project

Completed in June and able to hold up to 25,000 cubic metres of water, the reservoir is the largest of about 150 haffirs built and rehabilitated in Sudan since 2002 under WFP’s food-for-work programme. WFP’s partner in the project, Qatar-based NGO Al Hayat International Water Organization, provided expertise and tools.

More than a thousand residents, including the elderly and women, toiled under a burning sun for four weeks to build the haffir in a region that is part of Sudan’s drought belt.

“There’s interest in replicating this in other parts of Sudan, and not only because of the size. It was made by the community, all the partners were involved. And it gave people food at a time when there’s a food gap,” Balhubai said, referring to the dry season when the building took place.

Living on the edge

Experts estimate the reservoir will provide enough water to meet the needs of about 1,600 families living in El Tyina and seven other nearby villages, where farmers raise sheep and goats and grow sorghum and groundnuts during the rainy season.

Before the reservoir was constructed, dry spells saw villagers travel many kilometres by foot, donkey or car in search of water. Some paid up to US$ 2 for 200 litres of water – enough for a household’s needs for just a few days and an enormous sum in this impoverished region.

Beyond water, the haffir project has brought a degree of stability to a population living on the edge.

“Many families used to migrate to Um Durman and El Obeid, but they have settled down this year,” said Amany Mohamed, Al Hayat’s coordinator in the project, naming two municipalities in central Sudan.

Now, she said, “they won’t have to migrate to the cities to find food.”