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Constant search for water leads Sudan's Misseriya people into conflict

posted 18 Apr 2011, 09:21 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Apr 2011, 09:23 ]

From April to June every year, Sudan's nomadic Misseriya community travel for hundreds of kilometeres with their animals in search of water due to lack of rain. The journey often leads them into conflict with another community, the Dinka Ngok in an area that is no stranger to insecurity.

During the dry months from April to June, Sudan's Misseriya community in Muglad city and its environs know they have to begin a perilous journey for water.

Muglad lies to the north of Sudan's Abyei region. Abyei is close to key oil fields and includes rich pasture land coveted by two main groups, the Dinka Ngok, linked to south Sudan's Dinka people, and nomadic Misseriya Arabs, associated with the north.

Close to 95,000 Misseriya pastoralists live here in Muglad and they graze their herds south during the dry season in search of the pasture that has pitted the two communities against each other for years.

For Haj Fatima travelling for hours riding on a donkey in search of water and pasture is a way of life. Hundreds of nomadic Misseriya make this trek annually in search of water regardless of any danger that may lie on the way.

"We have no water in this area. We can walk for up to two hours away to get some water. We go twice or three times a week to get it," said Fatima.

A few boreholes have been built in the area and are a brief stop for the pastoralists and their herds but the water is not enough.

"We have four water stations. They produce around 20,000 gallons per hour, however in eastern Muglad the productivity is very low and does not exceed more than 3000 gallons. The people here need more than 50,000 gallons. There are other people who have contributed to the boreholes including the armed forces and the hospital and others," said Othman Yousef, a City Water Services engineer.

"The water here is clean from the tubes to the containers directly but here the reservoir is not separated, man and animal drink from the same water. There is another water station in eastern Muglad. Around 5,000 donkey cars come here daily to drink water," he said.

Fifty kilometers away from Muglad town in Kilo Khamseen, patrolists passing through say tensions between the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok tribes delay migrations and want the government to build amenities along the way.

"Our cattle are now supposed to be in the south but have not gone because of tensions. We would like the government to build us a hospital and a water point and this will help with the basic needs," said Gimaa Mahmoud, Worker, Kilo Khamseen station.

But who governs Abyei has long been in dispute. Both south Sudan's independence referendum and a vote on whether Abyei will be part of the north or south were promised in the 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.

The Abyei vote did not take place and both north and south Sudan claim the oil-producing, border area of Abyei, one of the most likely sources of conflict in the build-up to the secession of southern Sudan, due in July.

Mohammad Jumah is happy -- his cattle can drink water that has collected in a dry riverbed that he stumbled upon on his journey and he doesn't have to go too far where danger from the rival Dinka Ngok may be lurking.

"This water collected here recently. People and cattle drink together from this source. You see how we are suffering? The only problem that we face is the lack of water. Our conflict with southerners is because of water. We have cows and they need to drink. Even children go for long distances to find water," said Jumah.

Adding to the insecurity, some cattle escape and others die during migration but the Misseriya pastoralists say they cannot change their way of life despite the problems they face.

"We are nomads we can't settle in one place and we have a lot of cattle. Now water and pasture are finished. At the moment the nomads are in a critical position in terms of water. Every morning the cows escape to in search of water in southern Sudan," said Hamdi Aldodo, a Misseriya chief.

Advocacy groups are working to ease the tensions caused by the migration of the pastoralists by holding meetings between the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok chiefs and suggesting alternative grazing routes.