Flying for clean water in a war zone

Flying for clean water in a war zone

On 1 June 2018 MAF flew to Ulang, South Sudan with almost a ton of well drilling equipment for Medair. The area is home to refugees fleeing fighting less than 20 miles away.

Christian humanitarian aid organisation Medair is assisting the community of Ulang in South Sudan to access clean drinking water including many internally displaced people (IDP’s) who have fled violent conflict nearby. Ulang has been identified by OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) as an area of priority need.

Story by Thorkild Jørgensen. Photos by Chris Ball and Smiley N. Pool.

Halting the reach of quickly spreading, preventable diseases is a key priority for Medair.  But there are no shortcuts - and the team only has basic equipment to manually drill the boreholes and install the hand-pumps.

In the absence of clean water sources, people are forced to use any water they can find including water from the nearby river. So alongside the new wells, Medair are conducting hygiene promotion and training. 

Once the wells are completed, the team will also train mechanics to maintain and repair the handpumps so that people will continue to have good fresh clean water once Medair leave.

'The manual drilling method enables us to work in far and remote places, as it can be transported easily and it is quick and effective.'

Emergency solutions

The plane that carried the water drill equipment, was the first MAF plane to land in Ulang for a long time. So the first thing that MAF-pilot Chris Ball did after offloading the precious cargo was to walk the airfield with a measuring wheel - assessing its condition.

He calculated that 800m of the airstrip is safe, enough to begin a service with the Cessna Caravans, should it be required. The areas fragile security situation and scale of the need in the area means the need for future flights is almost guaranteed.

‘It is always very encouraging to work with partners like MAF who have the same vision and are also praying for our work. That gives all of us hope and courage to continue serving the people in need together!' Annegreet

Providing safe passage

Opposition and government armed forces have clashed several times, since February in nearby Nasir - less than 20 miles away. People from the town are now living side-by-side with the host population along with IDPs from what was formerly Jonglei state, an area to the south of Ulang. The area is now a melting pot of people in need.

It's not just the immediate needs that need to be met. During the wet season, which lasts from April to November, accessing the area can be even more of a challenge. Planning ahead is vital and the airstrip will help provide a lifeline for humanitarian response.  

Chris is well aware of the risks of flying in the area and knows the precautions he has to take. ‘If I fly over Nasir I will be shot at’ he explains pragmatically. He plans his route accordingly. 

Both MAF and Medair have very robust security protocols, and Medair will pull their team out of Ulang if need be. In an emergency, it is likely that MAF will receive the call. But whilst the area is stable, and there are needs to be met – Medair will get to work.  

Boreholes and basic human needs

Medair is planning to drill boreholes in several affected villages along the Sobat River. For now, they succeeded in installing two new water points in two villages. The people in these villages were drinking water straight from the river and swamps. They are happy that they now have clean water to drink.  

WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) manager - Annegreet, who assists with the drilling and hygiene messaging explains: ‘We originally did a WASH  intervention and Non-Food Item (NFI) response in Ulang at the beginning of the year. First, we did an assessment to determine the needs before we followed with an intervention.

‘Six weeks ago, the WASH team returned to do additional manual drilling, and we are currently working on the third handpump. The manual drilling method enables us to work in far and remote places, as it can be transported easily and it is quick and effective.

‘Of course, we are still having a lot of challenges. It is always very encouraging to work with partners like MAF who have the same vision and are also praying for our work. That gives all of us hope and courage to continue serving the people in need together!'

Please continue to pray for peace in South Sudan.