South Sudan’s water supply and hygiene services have been severely affected by the conflict that began in 2013. Nearly 5.1 million of the most vulnerable people in the country need access to safe water and basic sanitation facilities.

Unsafe water puts children at risk of deadly diseases. Water and sanitation related diseases are one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 years old worldwide. Every day, over 800 children under 5 die from diarrhoea linked to inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene.

Diarrhoea can prevent children from getting the nutrients they need to survive, ultimately leading to malnutrition. In South Sudan, more than 1.1 million children under 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished, with almost 276,000 facing severe acute malnutrition, this year.

“No matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe,” says Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes.

Many water pumps have been damaged because of the conflict or made dysfunctional due to a lack of repairs, but a newly restored water treatment plant in one town is making a real difference in people's lives. 

In the town of Bentiu, UNICEF and partners have rehabilitated and upgraded the town's water treatment plant. The water supply system is now fully operational and the plant produces about 500,000 litres per day of safe, treated water. The water is then pumped to 22 water points across the city, including schools, health facilities and communities.

© UNICEF UN075399/Kealey

© UNICEF UN075399/Kealey

For Angelina Nyakuma (pictured), life was difficult before the water pump at the school near her home was rehabilitated. The mother of six used to fetch water from a river, which would take her about two hours by foot. Now it takes her only five minutes to collect water with the help of her children, making it possible for her to make the journey several times a day. “The water we get from the school here, I use it to prepare food for my kids and do other things at home, we are all happy,” says Angelina.

Such basic services are life changing, not just for individuals like Angelina, but entire communities. At Machakos Primary School in Bentiu, the school’s head teacher James Thudan Kuol says more students have begun attending school since the water stand was rehabilitated.

“Good things are happening now,” he says. “The teachers are here and the children have come, a good number of them. There is a now a feeding programme installed – all of that was possible because of clean and easy access to water.”

The Bentiu hospital is also benefitting. Giel Samuel, Chief Executive Director of the hospital, explains how clean water is crucial for treating patients, especially as the hospital is now seeing an increase of patients with illnesses such as malaria due to the rainy season.

Thanks to support from programs like Road to Awareness and Check Out for Children UNICEF has supported more than 600,000 people like Angelina across South Sudan to access safe water in 2017.