Women in South Sudan learn the mechanics of well repair so that they can fix community wells when their pumps and other parts break down. (Photo: WIB)

ATLANTA – “Water for Peace” is the theme of World Water Day 2024, celebrated on Friday, March 22. The struggle to access clean water along with ambiguity around water rights can plunge communities into local and regional conflict. As global temperatures rise, worries about having enough water for households, gardens, agriculture and animals raise tensions.

Public health, food, energy systems, economic productivity and environmental integrity rely on water resources that are equitably managed. When these vital human activities are secure and stable, tensions decrease, and peace can take root, even in communities that experience conflict and scarcity.

United Methodists can celebrate World Water Day with pride. Through Global Ministries’ Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program, water resources in places like South Sudan and Haiti have been improved and maintained through peaceful means that invite participation by whole communities.

Water for health care, schools and households

The Primary Health Care Unit in Alok, South Sudan, saw a drastic increase in cases of diarrhea and stomach ailments in the surrounding community just two weeks after its well broke down.

The health care facility, a local market and two schools depend on this well for clean water, but the local health authorities said they did not have parts to fix the pump. Villagers began to draw untreated water directly from the Kueng River.

A visionary program developed by partners in South Sudan and supported by a grant from Global Ministries sent a team out to repair the well the day after they were notified. This remarkable team is one of 14 trained across areas of the Bhar el-Ghazal region of South Sudan.

Most team members participating in this initiative are women with no prior mechanical training, often heads of households, responsible for children and aging parents. Today, their families’ lives are greatly improved because this training includes courses on how to make well repair a business…a business in which they thrive.

When the well breaks down

Normally, when a well breaks down in South Sudan and there are no technicians and no parts available, it may be weeks, or even years before a repair crew arrives. The Women’s Well Repair Initiative provides a solution and increases economic resources, self-sustainability, women’s participation in community initiatives, health care, education and overall stability for communities in which it works.

Two key partners involved in this training project, Water is Basic (WIB) and Women’s Empowerment Solutions Initiative (WESI) of South Sudan, designed the program to reach 300+ communities in Bhar el-Ghazal. Well and pump parts are purchased wholesale and stored at local churches and other community facilities willing to warehouse them.

Program managers in South Sudan sought out women who could handle the physical demands of well-repair and the ability to learn a new trade, whose families were struggling. Churches nominated candidates, like Julia, a mother of three in Alok whose husband was absent. Her pastor described her as “someone who bore the weight of suffering most acutely within her community,” yet the congregation voted unanimously to nominate her for the training.

Today, she is a team leader, her children are enrolled in school and she has improved her home and helped others in her family build homes too.

Abu, a 5th grader at St. Paul School in Aweil, South Sudan, says she wants to be a pilot when she grows up. Abu was one of the students who came out to meet the team that fixed the well the school uses. (Photo: WIB)

Managing a precious resource together

Another project supported by Global Ministries in Bhar el-Ghazal is working to drill new borehole wells in four villages. This partner, Mission to Alleviate Suffering in South Sudan (MASS), not only builds the wells, it helps communities form water committees and identify members for training. Like the WIB-WESI program, 10 water mechanics are being trained to keep the wells in working order.

Water committee members in Aweil, South Sudan, receive training on the basics of pump parts and well repair. (Photo: MASS)

An additional campaign to provide training in hygiene practices and distribute WASH supplies to roughly 7,500 residents in the villages ensures that residents understand the best WASH practices and water resource maintenance. Conflicts over water are greatly reduced when the community itself sets up and maintains water committees.

Adut, one of the women chosen to serve on a water committee in Aweil North, takes her responsibility seriously. “I am here to represent women and show our community that women, just like men, can play an important role in driving community development. I will work with my colleagues to ensure our water point remains operational and that when we have a breakdown, we will solve the problem within the shortest time.”

Individual and community efforts provide mutual benefits

Miles across the Atlantic Ocean from South Sudan, Haitian communities that have endured natural disasters, civil unrest and relocation for many reasons assess resources for clean water and sanitation in their villages.

A grant to Fondation Voix des Communautes de Base (FVCB), formerly known as Heart to Heart, has helped about 10,000 people to form Mutual Solidarity (MUSO) community groups to construct and maintain household latrines and handwashing stations and clean up their environment. Combined with community education on proper hygiene, they have a good chance of decreasing outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne diseases that plague Haiti.

A member of one of the MUSO groups noted: “We didn’t know that one person can contaminate others living in the same community when he or she doesn’t respect the good principles of water, hygiene and sanitation. I don’t want to cause the people in my house and neighborhood to get sick. That is why I decided to build my latrine.”

On World Water Day, people the world over express their thanks for this wonderful gift of God. Of all the resources the world has to ensure everyone has water, it is people – working together – that is the most powerful resource of all.

Christie R. House is a consultant writer and editor for Global Ministries and UMCOR.

Global Health
Through United Methodist conferences and health boards, Global Ministries works to strengthen whole networks of health responses, from revitalization of facilities and staff training to building better water sources, developing sanitation facilities and promoting nutrition. Global Health concentrates on eradicating preventable diseases, such as malaria, HIV and AIDS, and COVID-19, and supporting the most vulnerable populations, including mothers, newborns and children.