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II. The impact of improved rural water supplies on the environment: The case of Eeast Kordofan district

The problem
Objectives of the study
Data collection and methodology
Characteristics of the area under study
The government's rural water supply strategy
The social and economic impact of new rural water supplies
Ecological impact
Obstacles to better water resource use
Conclusions and recommendations

A. A. Al-Awad, Y. A. Mohammed, and S. A. El-Tayeb

The terms "arid " and "semi-arid " are applied to regions with very limited precipitation. Such lands are generally characterized by a shortage of water, except where water is supplied by an allogenic river such as the Nile or in places with access to underground water supplies, such as desert oases. In most areas the only remedy for this water shortage is to sink wells or boreholeswhere geological conditions are suitable for trapping underground water. In some fortunate cases the water is under pressure and comes to the surface without asistance, but more often pumping is required. In the semi-aird areas where suitable conditions occur water may collect for part of the year in natural hollows, and on the heavy clay plains it may be possible to excavate hollows (in Sudan, hafirs) with modern earth-moving machinery and to direct surface rainwater to fill them. Sometimes the larger ones may store a supply of water adequate to last throughout the year, provided the population of humans and animals is not too high.

One of the dilemmas of such areas is that, while increased water supplies are necessary for a proper use of the natural resources and to alleviate adverse living conditions for humans and animals, the almost inevitable result is a concentration of population that disturbs the fragile ecological equilibrium.

The East Kordofan District of Northern Kordafan Province is one such area. Its mean annual rainfall varied from 200 to 400 mm when the water supply improvement programme was initiated in the 1950s.

In normal years this is sufficient to cultivate aura, millet, ground-nuts, and sesame quite successfully. However, the rainfall is little enough to limit the room for manoeuvre available to farmers, and this in itself acts as a disincentive to rural change. Under such circumstances the advantages of at least a partially nomadic way of life are manifest. Though parts of the area are underlain by basement complex offering little possibility of underground water availability, other parts are underlain by the more permeable Umm Ruwaba Series and other areas are blessed with clays wherein hafirs may be excavated.

The paper that follows investigates the impact of the Sudan Government's rural water supply programme on the peopIe, their economy and way of life, and the physical environmen t itself in this rural area.

- H. R. J. Davies


The problem

East Kordofan District is characterized by a perennial shortage of drinking water. The Sudan Government recognized this fact and has embarked on a programme of improving rural water supplies in both quantity and quality. Modern technology has made it possible to make ground water supplies available by tapping suitable aquifers and so reduce dependence on seasonal and surface water sources. This additional water has provided a larger resource base upon which to support an increased human and animal popuiation.

In developing countries such programmes usually have three main aims (fig. 1): (1) to provide economic benefits to the rural community, (2) to secure improved health through the provision of potable water, and (3) to improve the quality of life for the villagers directly by removing the burden of water shortages.

The Sudan Government's rural water supply programme makes the following assumptions:

1. Western Sudan, including East Kordofan District, is a water-deficient area, but with high potential for development. Provision of adequate and perennial supplies of water is the single most important factor with which to stimulate economic and social development.
2. Water provision will open new and additional areas for grazing and may stimulate nomads to settle.
3. Proper utilization of agricultural land depends on water availability. Lack of water will result in out-migration and a decline in the labour supply available for agricultural production.
4. Water provision may also help population redistribution, influence the location of settlements, and control their size.

The government's ability to provide water to rural areas is not in doubt. The accumulated knowledge of the geological structures has led to the drilling of large numbers of successful eholes and the excavation of many successful hafirs. However, it also has become clear that these water delivery techniques are not as effective as anticipated in meeting the needs of the communities and fulfilling the aims and assumptions postulated by the government.

FIG. 1. Potential benefits of improved water supplies

There are several indications that water development technology has been misapplied or has had unexpected and undesirable consequences: In the first place, it is observed that water points do not help in population redistribution. Instead they lead to human and animal concentrations, with serious increases in woodcutting, overgrazing, and general deterioration of soil and vegetation in the vicinity of the settlement sites. It is also recognized that the techniques of water delivery and water use often create health hazards as a result of bad management. Employment of the same water trough for both human and animal consumption is one example of this type of problem.

It seems that there is a wide gap between the provision of more and better quality water by modern technology and the traditional techniques of resource utilization at the water source. This technological gap is the main obstacle to better resource utilization, especially in areas opened as a result of new water supplies. Large numbers of people and animals move into such areas; yet they still employ their traditional methods of cultivation and animal rearing. With an increase in the number of people and animals beyond a certain point the ecological equilibrium will be upset.


Objectives of the study

It is agreed that the government's rural water supply programme has met with mixed success, but evaluation and assessment of how it has functioned in specific cases has received little attention. This study to some extent remedies this for one small area and attempts to assess the obstacles that hinder a better utilization of the resources made available by expanded water provision; - to evaluate the contribution made to the socio-economic improvement of East Kordofan by the government's rural water programme, and to see how effective it is in serving the economic, health, and social objectives of particular communities; - to suggest ways of overcoming the obstacles identified St as to achieve a more rational resource use with environmental conservation; and - to recommend better methods for matching rural water development technology with the aspirations and objectives of the societies for which it is intended.

Since 1944 many studies in Sudan have pointed to both environmental degradation and socio-economic development resulting from improved rural water supply provision (Soil Conservation Committee Report 1944, Jackson and Harrison 1958, El-Banna 1961, Abu Zeid 1969). However, none of these studies have attempted to carry out these four objectives.


Data collection and methodology

To achieve these objectives, appropriate methods of data collection must be followed. Other studies of a similar nature have used one or the other of two approaches: 1. Some studies have undertaken a comparison between conditions before and after the development of the improved supply. This historical approach requires reconstruction of the conditions in the past, but in underdeveloped areas lack of information may lead to unreliable results. 2. Alternatively, some studies have sought to examine conditions around a place where an improved supply is found and to compare them with conditions around a place with no such improved supply and assume that any differences that exist may be attributed to its provision.

In this study both approaches were used. The historical approach was made possible by the practice of the Rural Water Development Corporation of collecting information on the natural potentialities of an area and the size of the population to be served before deciding on water provision. Such reports, both published and unpublished, were obtained from government departments in El Obeid, Umm Ruwaba, and Er Rahad and provided information on the type of water source, its capacity, the date of development, and a predevelopment land-use study evaluating the development potential of the area. During this stage of data collection, lists of villages were prepared and classified according to date of water provision.

However, most of the information on which this study is based was collected through direct interviews with selected persons from six villages and used the latter approach. The villages in the area were grouped into six categories according to their water-supply situation and the date of water provision, and from each group one village was randomly selected for study. The villages selected were the following (see fig. 2):

1. Sherkeila-to represent villages having a natural permanent water supply (the Sherkeila turda);
2. Kadada-to represent villages in which the borehole was dug in the 1950s;
3. Rokab-to represent villages where the borehole was dug in the 1960s;
4. Medesis-to represent villages where the borehole was dug in the 1970s
5. Regiela-to represent villages still without an improved water supply; here the inhabitants depend on traditional shallow wells;
6. Abu La'ot-to represent villages with no water source, and so to act as a control in the study to measure the impact of water supply on other villages.

During the fieldwork, four methods of data collection were followed:

1. Data were collected from files at both district and province levels, and interviews were held with officials responsible for water supply.
2. Field observations, informal discussions, and air photographs were used.
3. Data were collected through interviews with household heads.
4. Biophysical data were obtained (a) by taking soil samples to test change in soil structure and fertility, (b) by assessing carrying capacities, and (c) by noting the availability of different grass species and tree density in both grazed and cultivated areas.


Characteristics of the area under study

Geomorphology, geology, and soils

East Kordofan is part of western Sudan's sand belt (qoz), which stretches from the White Nile westwards into Darfur Province. The major soil types are sandy soils found to the north of Khor Abu Habl and clays to the south of it (fig. 2). Geomorphologically, the sands of this district are divided into

- low fixed dunes,
- undulating fixed dunes,
- longitudinal dunes, and
- sand sheets with clay hollows.

The clay soils are divided into

- the clay loams of the Abu Hablbasin,
- the mixed soils of wadi bottoms, and
- the clay plains.

The distribution of these soil types has influenced the type of water supply provision as weli as the economic activities. Water supply is not influenced by the superficial deposits alone, for the geological formation also plays a major role. Three geological formations are found in the district.

FIG. 2 Geomorphology and soils of East Kordofan District

The most extensive is the Umm Ruwaba series, which is the best aquifer; most of the boreholes are associated with it. In the southern parts of the district, water provision through boreholes is very problematic because of the presence of the basement complex (fig. 3). Most of the water is provided either by hafirs if suitable clays exist or by shallow wells. The Nawa series, found near the Nawa railway station, is of only limited significance as an aquifer.


As the rainfall in East Kordafan is low, the vegetation is an acaciashort-grass scrub with grasses tending to dominate more in the driest areas. The dominant acacia in the central and northern parts according to the Kordofan Land and Water Use Survey of 1962 was Acacia senegal (hashab), the tree from which gum arabic is derived. The prevalence of this tree appears to have been dramatically reduced during the last 15 years. Significant stands are now limited to the areas around Gafil and Et Taiyara (fig. 3). To the south and on the clay soils Acacia mellifera (kitr) tends to dominate. Annual grasses rather than perennial grasses dominate.

Population of People and Animals

According to the 1973/74 census, the total population of East Kordafan District was 319,918, compared with 269,884 at the 1995/56 census. The represents an increase of some 50,000, or only 18.5 per cent, and increase in average population density form 11 to 13 person per square kilometers over 18 years.. The existence of a water supply and other services played a major role in the distribution of this population. The most densely populated areas to be found along the railway line and in the Khor Abu Habl basin, where some irrigated agriculture is possible. Away form the railway, the population density decreases.

FIG. 3 Water points in East Kordofan District.

The district is inhabited by a number of ethnic groups. The Gawama'a are the dominant group and occupy the central and northern parts of the district. They are mainly settled cultivators, but a few still continue to be nomadic camel-keepers. The Shanabla are a totally nomadic groups, few in number, whose migration with their camels takes them as far south as the Nuba Mountains. The Habbania are found in the south-eastern part of the district around Sherkeila. Originally they were cattle nomads, but many have lost their animals and become settled cultivators.

All these keep large numbers of animals, with consequent requirements for water and grazing. A recent government livestock census (Sudan Government 1976/77) reported the following numbers of animals in East Kordofan:

- 211,083 cattle,
- 413,769 sheep,
- 370,383 goats,
- 147,485 camels,
- 28,748 donkeys,
- 1,611 horses.

TABLE 1. Percentages of households in the study villages cultivating various crops

  Sesame Millet Dura Ground-nuts Kerkade*
Kadada 100 100 62.5 0 20
Rokab 100 96.6 20 6.6 16.6
Medesis 100 96.5 24 0 10.3
Abu La'ot 100 100 13.5 0 2.7
Sherkeila 100 %0 50 0 2
Regiela 100 95 35 5 2

*Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa var. Edulis)


The variety of crops grown in this area is limited by the anticipated rainfall, which gives the farmer little room for manoeuvre. The basic food crops are dukhn (bulrush millet, Pennisetum typhoideum) and aura (Sorghum vulgare). Dukhn tends to dominate on sands and in the drier parts, and aura dominates in the wetter parts and on clays. The traditional cash crop is sesame, with ground-nuts especially on the sands. The situation in the sampled villages is shown in table 1.


The government's rural water supply strategy

The whole philosophy of the colonial administration towards economic development in Sudan is summarized in a report by the Governor-General in 1905:

The welfare of the Sudanese is likely to be promoted neither by spectacular progress of development, nor too rapid innovations in administration. To the Sudan may truly be applied the Arab proverb that "haste is of the devil, slow deliberation is of God".

The old province of Kordafan remained outside the orbit of changes brought about by big projects, but when signs of land deterioration began to appear, the government set up a Soil Conservation Board in 1942 "to report on the present situation in the Sudan with regard to soil erosion and desiccation and the availability of rural water supplies for human and animal population" (Soil Conservation Committee Report 1944). It recommended the creation of a small conservation section within the Department of Agriculture.

This section started work in late 1947. The policy adopted was to open up new areas for settlement so as to relieve the overpopulated areas where soil deterioration was evident. In fact most of the action taken was to improve rural water supplies by means of hafirs, dams, and bore holes. It was believed that, if new water points were established, people and their animals would move to these newly opened areas.

The provision of water proved not to be enough. In many cases water points were opened without adequate planning for good land use, which resulted in further deterioration around many of the new water points. It became clear that the task was far greater than had been realized and that the capabilities of the Soil Conservation Section were inadequate to cope with the twin problems of thirst and land misuse.

After independence there was a change in policy and strategy. A suitable policy would require a "unified programme involving a variety of features all directed towards the protection and conservation of the natural resources" (El-Banna 1961). The Soil Conservation Section was therefore enlarged, renamed the Department of Land Use and Rural Water Development, and made the sole body responsible for planning and formulation of policies for sound use of land, rural water, and plant resources in accordance with the social and economic needs of the country

Despite this stated policy, the Department of Land Use was unable to formulate a national policy to guide its activities However, some basic criteria for new rural water provision emerged:

1. Water need should be determined by the size of both the human and the animal population.
2. New water points should not normally be established less than 8 km from the nearest existing permanent souroes.
3. The potential of the area for economic development should be taken into consideration.
4. New water provision must not lead to further land deterioration but should enhance the rational utilization of resources.
5. The geological situation must be favourable for the proposed method of new water provision.

FIG. 4 Overlapping of grazing areas: Kadada, and Rokad and Medesis.

In practice these criteria were not always applied. In many instances political pressure influenced water provision, thus reducing the distance between boreholes and leading to the overlap of grazing areas (figs. 3 and 4).


The social and erconomic impact of new rural water supplies

Settlement Growth and Population Change

Human settlements are seldom based on the availability of water alone, but water provision is found to play an important role in the location of new settlements or in attracting migrants to an old settlement. Places with permanent and improved water supplies attract more people and animals to their area. In the study area, the three villages with improved water supply give evidence supporting this assumption.

The borehole in Kadada village was dug in 1950. There was no settlement at that particular site before that time; there were three small villages around the site but some 3-4 km away. After the borehole was dug, two villages began to migrate to it immediately and the third village began to migrate in 1967. Of the survey respondents in Kadada

- 72.5 per cent had migrated there within 1 year (i.e. by 1951),
- 85 per cent within 5 years (1955),
- 92.5 per cent within 10 years (1960), and
- 100 per cent within 25 years (1975).

The evidence of these migrations is clear from the traces of the abandoned villages. It was also found that 87.5 per cent of the respondents mentioned that water was the main reason for their migration from the old sites.

For Rokab, an aold village where improved water was sup plied in 1960, it was found that 16.6 per cent of the respondents settled after water provision and 6.6 per cent came five years after water provision. The survey showed that 60 per cent of the people who settled after 1960 mentioned that water was the main reason for their movement to the village.

For Medesis, where the borehole was drilled in 1970, it was found that 34.4 per cent of the respondents migrated to the village soon after and a further 27.5 per cent migrated within five years after water provision. Here 55.1 per cent of the respondents who migrated to the village mentioned water as the main reason for their movement.

For the other three villages, with no improved supplies, there has also been some migration but not on as large a scale and for different reasons. There is evidence of migration to Abu La'ot village, but all migrants said the main reason for their migration was the good arable land in this area. Sherkeila is also growing because it has been selected as the headquarters of a new rural council. in Regiela there is no evidence of migration (table 2).

TABLE 2. Population and number of households of villages surveyed

  Population Households Change in households (%)
Before water 1979 Before water 1979  
Kadada (1950) 0 2,500 0 454  
Rokab (1960) 859 1,200 162 194 +19.8
Medesis (1970) 164 250 31 47 +51.6
Sherkeila - 3.000 - - -
Regieia - 1,200 - - -
Abu La'ot - 200 - - -

Dates of new rural water provision in parentheses

TABLE 3. Change in areas cultivated (feddans), 1969 - 1979

  Area cultivated Increase
1969 1979 Area %
Kadada 23,973 23,615 - 358 - 1.5
Rokab 7,310 9,040 1,730 23.7
Medesis 2,015 2,410 3,950 19.6
Abu La'ot 2,215 2,255 40 1.8
Sherkeila 25,000 30,000 5,000 20.0
Regiela 10,000 12,000 2,000 20.0

Expansion of Agricultural Production and Livestock

In such rural areas, the use of natural resources and primary production is the main source of livelihood. It is assumed therefore that the settled people around the water points will start to cultivate more land as they have additional time which had formerly been used for fetching water. The area cultivated by the households in each village will continue to increase to a limit imposed by the availability of arable land and family structure. When that limit is reached, the area will remain stable. The cultivation will be maintained by applying a crude system of rotation. As families increase in size, the fields will become fragmented.

In the areas under study the pattern is partly confirmed. Table 3 shows areas under cultivation at the time of the survey and ten years before. It appears from this that areas under cultivation expanded considerably after the new water source was provided, but that this expansion has not necessarily been permanently maintained. Kadada, which received its new water source in 1950, shows a small decline over the past ten years. Two interrelated factors appear to be involved in Kadada. Here both a decrease in soil fertility and the development of alternative employment has occurred. In the three villages without new water sources expansion has also occurred related to their increasing population.

The average distances of fields from these settlements showed results contrary to what was expected. In the old villages, including the oldest of the new villages, fields are far from the village centre-about 6 km. In other villages fields are nearer to the village centre, averaging about 1.5 km. This is because in the old villages the immediate area surrounding the village has become exhaustd as a result of continuous cultivation. So the zone of deteriorated soil gradually becomes wider over time and the recently cleared land is found at an increasing distance.

Traditional strategies of cultivation usually try to maintain a balance between the use and conservation of the resources by leaving to revert to forest after of fertility. But with an increase in population, the years of continuous cultivation increase and allow years decrease (table 4). The control village Abu La'ot comes out clearly the best.

TABLE 4. Intensity of cultivation

  Number of years Land-use
Continuous cultivation Fallow intensity*
Kadada 5 6 0.45
Rokab 6 8 0.43
Medesis 6 7 0.46
Abu La'ot 4 8 0.33
Sherkeila 20 4 0.83
Regiela 10 4 0.71

* Years of cultivations divided by total years of cultivation puls fallow

TABLE 5. Animals owned by inhabitants of the villages surveyed

  Cattle Sheep Camels Goats Donkeys
Kadada 1,257 590 34 1,207 987
Rokab 536 206 303 556 230
Medesis 62 0 62 121 68
Abu La'ot 95 170 80 210 100
Sherkeila 1,000 2,000 300 2,500 800
Regiela 1,200 1,000 100 1,000 200

This increase cultivation will influence the vegetation cover around the boreholes. Forest serve economic as well as conservational purposes, and so with the expansion of agricultural land more trees are cut down to facilitate cultivation, for building construction, and for fuel. The survey suggests that those lands with the lowest intensity of land use for cultivation had the least difficulty over firewood supplies. This is because the earlier the borehore was dug, the farther now the distance to the wooded area. This extensive wood felling will influence some species more than others. It is found that a negative impact on gum arabic production in the area and soil fertility, for Acacia senegal helps to fix nitrogen in the soil.

Not only does the provision of water attract settlers and thei domestic animals, but also nomad and livestock belonging to neighbouring villages will visit the new water point. The survey showed that considerable numbers of animals form outside the village use the water points (tables 5-7) and so help to exert heavy pressure on the local resources, leading to over-grazing around the water points. Some water points are more attractive than others, in particular Rokab, Medesis is the only borehole near the western boundary of the district; so there is no overlapping of grazing areas, whict makes the pasture condition good. Sherkeila, on the other hand, is located on a traditional nomadic route with plenty of permanent surface water in the turda, witch attracts large numbers of cattle-owning nomads.

Further aspects of changes in cropping practice and live-stock carrying capacites are discussed in the following section, "Ecological Impact".

TABLE 6. Animals using the water point at four of the surveyed villages

  Cattle Sheep Camels Goats
Kadada 1,500 2,000 200 1,500
Rokab 1,500 2,000 400 1,000
Medesis 2,500 3,000 750 2,000
Sherkeila 5,000 2,500 300 4,000*

Source: Borehote Clerk
* Estimated by the very Veterinary Office.

TABLE 7. Animals brought to the water points from other areas (table 6 minus table 5)

  Cattle Sheep Camels Goats
Kadada 243 1,410 166 293
Rokab 964 1,794 97 444
Medesis 2,438 3,000 688 1,879
Sherkeila 4,000 500 - 1,500

Provision of Services

It is clear that these settlements grew in size as a result of better water sources. The amount and nature of water supply has also influenced the extension of minor services to the rural areas. After water provision, schools and dispensaries were established in Kadada and Rokab. Thus they became meeting places for people of diverse modes of life, culture, and attitudes, leading to exchange not only of products but also of ideas and information of various kinds. These two villages have emerged as service centres. Kadada, the oldest village with improved water, has a larger number of services than Rokab or Medesis. It is found that services and age of the water point are strongly correlated, with the newest having least. Related to the growth of these settlements has been the development of marketing facilities. If the distribution of rural markets in the whole district is considered, a nested market hierarchy is found, ranging from weekly markets located in wellfields to twice-weekly markets associated with middle-sized villages such as Rokab and Kadada to daily markets as at Sherkeila. The growth and development of these markets has helped to create a favourable atmosphere for the expansion of cash crop production.

Better water provision leads to a number of social benefits that are difficult to measure adequately. As more water becomes available at a reasonable distance, the amount consumed increases. It is found that the average consumption per family in the villages with improved supplies is about 2.4 tins (42 litres), while villagers with no water supplies consume far less. Consumption is generally low in the dry season because of water scarcity and difficulty of getting it. Water consumption is influenced by many factors, such as the permanency of the source, its accessibility, the perceived quality of the water, and costs. In the villages surveyed, 44 per cent of the respondents use the source in their village because it is the only source; 37 per cent use it because it is near; 9.5 per cent use it because it is easy to get; only 2.5 per cent reported that they perceive it as clean and healthy.

The water collected is used for various domestic purposes -drinking, cooking, washing, etc. About 53 per cent of the respondents use on average one to two tins for all nondrinking purposes. This amount is rather small if compared with the amount used in towns for the same purposes. This may be attributed to the conditions at the borehole. The time spent in getting water is often still high. Over 53 per cent of the respondents reported that they spend more than one hour in getting two tins filled. The majority attribute this time waste to the distance to the source and queuing. Waste of time is also attributable to inefficiency of management, low pumping capacity, breakdowns and other stoppages, and a general deterioration of the wateryard in relation to taps, basins, and fence. At some boreholes, such as Kadada, there are special taps from which drinking water is taken, to protect it from contamination. At other boreholes, the troughs are used for both humans and animals, and this may lead to serious health hazards and thereby reduce the overall benefits brought about by improved water supplies.

Generally, improved provision of water supplies has led to a substantial increase in water consumption and to changes in water use. Usually borehole water is used for drinking because it is considered healthy, being clean and clear.

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