South Sudan: Building Wells for Mountain Villagers in South Sudan

AAR JAPAN has been building wells throughout South Sudan. Prior to each well’s construction, AAR JAPAN examines the distance between villages and their nearest water sources, as well as surveying the living conditions of the local people. This report focuses on the village of Taree in Lafon County.

Warfare Sends People to the Mountains
Taree village rests on the boundary between
the mountain and the plain
Southeastern Lafon County is marked by a large mountain range. Located at an altitude of 200 meters, the village of Taree rests on the boundary between the mountains and the surrounding plain, inhabited by an ethnic minority group known as the Tenet.

There are no houses to be seen on the broad plain to the east. The people of Taree tell us that they used to live in the plain, but the ravages of the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) led them to relocate to the mountains. With two civil wars now ended, the government has been encouraging people to move back to the plain in order to stimulate regional development, but the villagers are reluctant to move back because cattle rustlers and bandits frequent the lowlands. Security fears have resulted in ubiquitous gun ownership, with many village men reluctant to go to their farmlands without an AK-47 rifle strapped across their backs.

Farming Life in Taree
Most people in Taree live by farming. They grow sorghum, millet and maize, which are resistant to drought, and also groundnuts, soybeans, okra, jute (moroheiya), sesame, squash, and tobacco. Both the plain and the mountain slope are used as farmland, with groundnuts and vegetables grown on the plain, and sorghum grown both on the plain and on the slope. Visitors need to be careful not to step on squash and tobacco leaves, which are grown not only in home gardens, but even along the trails.

Sorghum and groundnuts are the staple foods of the village, and represent a substantial source of local income. With harvest coming only once a year, the villagers travel 80km to Torit, the provincial capital of Eastern Equatoria, to sell their crops, using the income to buy goods such as sugar, salt, clothing, and dishes. Families with poor harvests and little land are unable to grow excess crops for sale. Some make money by selling goats, but others take in no earnings at all. 

Villagers engaged in farming.
Some families keep cows and goats, but on the whole, livestock in the village is limited. The villagers say they gave up domesticating animals because they were all stolen by thieves. Many Taree men, some of whom lost their livestock, now engage in farming. In the village, keeping birds away from ripe sorghum is said to be a man’s job, and when I visited for our surveys, I often saw groups of men rushing to their farmlands while Taree women looked after their homes. Gender roles here are quite different from those in other nearby tribes. Among the Toposa, for example, it is said that men chase cattle while women care for the farm. Women in Taree do participate in farming to some extent, and it is said that sowing and weeding are work to be undertaken by a couple together.

Dispute over Water  
A woman gets water from a spring on the mountain. 
Springs are still important water sources for the
physically infirm.
Securing water is a crucial matter for the people of Taree. There were three wells on the plain near four villages including Taree, but two of them had already dried up, and only one remained working. Before the wells were constructed, villagers used to go and fetch water from rivers and springs. These water sources are still used, but many of them dry up seasonally. In addition, water from rivers and springs is not as hygienic as well water. 

The one remaining well was shared among four villages, and every day many people lined up for several of hours in front of the well. People in the village that was the nearest to the well eventually claimed ownership over it and even tried to exclude neighboring villagers from the site, resulting in a dispute.

Equal Use of Wells
Takeshi IKEDA (right), AAR staff member in Kapoeta,
interviews village women about a dispute over a well.
After conducting our survey, AAR constructed another well that would be accessible to all four villages. Now people from all four villages can use both wells, wait time has been reduced and the dispute has eased.

After the well was constructed, AAR encouraged local volunteers to establish a well management committee. AAR selected committee members (six in total) from every village so that no single village could keep a well to itself. If a well is abused, its structure can be worn away in just a few years, and finally the well breaks down. Proper treatment and regular maintenance are essential for long-term sustainability. There was no such committee for the previous wells, and the management committee decided to control the old wells as well as the new one.

AAR JAPAN will continue to support South Sudan and provide both peaceful access to clean water and training so that the local people can maintain wells for themselves.

Takeshi IKEDA, AAR JAPAN Kapoeta office, South Sudan
Born in Saitama, Japan. Has worked in AAR’s Kapoeta office since June 2011. After graduating from university, worked as an NGO staffer in Beijing for three years and in Myanmar (Burma) for two years. Plays music, practices karate, and enjoys trekking.