North Darfur water project helps protect women from sexual violence

A water project supported by the UN-African Union peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in eight villages of North Darfur will not only facilitate residents' access to water but also help to reduce sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the region, local residents and UNAMID officials said.



“For years we have been afraid of being attacked while fetching water and collecting firewood; it is not always possible to move in groups and we are often escorted by men or UNAMID peacekeepers,” a resident of Kuma Garadayat village, who declined to be named, told IRIN on 27 April.



Kuma Garadayat, 60km from El Fasher in North Darfur, is one of the villages where the water project was launched on 26 April. The eight villages host at least 3,000 returnees.



About 30,000 rolling water containers, with a capacity of 75l each, the equivalent of four jerry cans, were distributed to women in the villages, all with poor access to water and severely affected by drought during the dry season. “I hope through the water carriers, things will become easier for us; we’ll be less exposed,” the villager added.



According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), most SGBV cases in Darfur still occur during water and firewood collection.



Because of generally poor access to justice, a sense of impunity, and the social stigmas attached to SBGV, the international community in Darfur has launched several prevention, protection and response activities, including firewood patrols.



The water project is part of broader UNAMID-backed recovery projects, which include training midwives and helping to improve health and education in villages. Several thousand water hippos will be dispatched over the next two weeks, mainly to women heads of households, the vulnerable and people living far from water points, says UNAMID.



The barrel-shaped water carriers are designed to reduce the physical burden of carrying water and would benefit women and children who are mostly in charge of water collection in Sudan.



“One of the major sources of conflict in Darfur is access to water,” said Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint Special Representative and head of UNAMID, in a statement.



“This project is to make life easier and safer for women, and also to underscore the fact that water hasn’t only been a source of conflict, it is also the solution,” he said. “It is our hope that their [the barrels’] use will not only support former displaced persons but also help protect civilians as they return to resume their lives.”



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