News / Africa

Water Scarcity Root of Darfur Conflict


Lisa Schlein

The conflict in Western Sudan's Darfur region erupted more than eight years ago.  It has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced an estimated two million people.  Disputes over scarce water and grazing land between black African farmers and Arab pastoralist communities triggered the war.  Lack of access to water remains one of the major drivers of the ongoing conflict in Darfur.   An international conference in Khartoum at the end of June will focus on the critical issue of water and how the equitable use and management of this limited resource can help build peace in this troubled region.

When people in developed countries want water, they turn on the tap.

When people in Darfur want water, they have to search far and wide for it.

A UN video shows women and children walking long distances through the arid desert to fetch water in Darfur.  They wait in lengthy lines at the communal well to fill their jerry cans with water for their drinking and washing needs.  This process is repeated every three or four days.

According to the United Nations, one person uses nearly 400 liters of water per day, in the world's wealthiest countries.  In Darfur, 400 liters of water is shared by 20 people.

Mohamed Yonis is Deputy Joint Special Representative of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur.

"Water is one of the main root causes of this conflict," said Yonis.  "There is a need to address this issue and we do believe that water will serve as an instrument for peace."  

The United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has been in Darfur for three and one half years.  Yonis says well managed and equitably distributed water resources can ensure sustainable peace for the people in Darfur.  

"Water we believe is life and we believe it could contribute to the initiatives that the UN is making in terms of trying to reach peace with the people of Darfur," added Yonis.  

The United Nations is mediating Sudan peace negotiations in Doha, Qatar. But, a political solution remains elusive.  The world body is hoping for better results from the Water Conference it is organizing jointly with the Government of Sudan at the end of the month.

The conference will seek $1.5 billion from donors to support 56 water projects over the next six years.  These projects will focus on rebuilding the water infrastructure devastated by conflict and neglect.  They will introduce new technologies and systems for managing water, preparing for drought and helping farmers adapt to climate change.

Robin Bovey, the Sudan Program Manager for the UN Environment Program, says providing water in the Sahel is difficult because there is not much of it.    He calls managing water resources a massive undertaking that cannot be done in isolation.  

"We are presently setting up drought committees in camps," said Bovey.  "There will be another drought.  I mean there will be droughts that occur again.  This is just something that happens on a cyclical basis.  But, where you have population shifts, you have to make sure that people are prepared."  

Nils Kastberg, the representative for the UN Children's Fund for Sudan, says getting access to that water requires peace.  And peace can best be achieved on the local level.

"If we put a well and that leads to different groups of people fighting over access to that water, than we are contributing to conflict," added Kastberg.  "If, instead, we can use the access to water as a way for establishing dialogue between different groups, so that through that dialogue we can provide, for instance, access to water, but at the same time get the dialogue going that is so needed, then we are constructing peace from the local level."

But, aid agencies agree these peace initiatives ultimately will lead nowhere without cooperation from the Sudanese government.  They are urging the government to provide services equally to all people in Darfur and to grant them freedom of movement so they can distribute essential relief and care.  

They believe the best prospects for peace lie with local communities, not with the Central government.  They say people are tired of fighting.  They want to trade their goods.  They want access to markets and water.  

And this, aid workers say, is prompting many communities to conclude their own peace agreements. If this process grows and spreads from village to village, they say, these local agreements could translate into a significant regional-wide peace for Darfur.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs