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img_9779.jpg Shimmering heat haze on the road to Merowe after annual flooding, 2017


Heat and Dust – Women, Water and Literacy 

This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership

Learn more about our literacy work in Literacy Changes Lives and Windows

90% of our literacy participants have no running water at home. Learn more about our scale and reach in At a Glance 


Please consider giving to our life-changing work. Just click on the link below to donate quickly and securely:

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Heat and Dust – Women, Water and Literacy


Heat – Water Challenges and Sudanese Rural Life

img_9607.jpgOmdurman Camel Market, Khartoum 

Painted in Waterlogue

Summer temperatures in Sudan now regularly exceed 45ºC.

Temperatures are projected to rise by 0.5ºC to as much as 3ºC by 2050. (USAID Environmental Survey). Projections such as  these raise grave questions about longterm environmental sustainability for many countries like Sudan.


Desert terrain near Merowe, Northern Sudan 

“Several vulnerability indices rank Sudan among the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Increased frequency of droughts and high rainfall variation over the past few decades have already put stress on the region’s rainfed agriculture and pastoralist systems, the dominant livelihoods in rural areas……In North Darfur, reduction of rainfall, in combination with increased water demand and land use change, has contributed to desertification of millions of hectares and depletion of water sources over the past few decades.  In addition to unstable crop production and shrinking productive land and water resources, ongoing conflicts have displaced 2.5 million people.” USAID, Climate Change Risk Profile, Sudan and below: 


Read more about Sudan’s environmental  challenges here:


And The Niles: Climate Change’s imprint on the Nile Basin

Below, seeking relief from suffocating summer heat while fasting Ramadan in rural Sudan. Screenshot from Aljazeera  – scroll down to watch this Youtube documentary  




Many of the women attending our literacy program in Khartoum have fled severe ecological pressures in their homelands of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains – pressures which have robbed them of both their livelihoods and sustainable living conditions. They strive to rebuild their lives and ensure a better future for their families in the capital.  Water in Khartoum is good quality but poorer residents such as our literacy participants   face the daily stresses of affording and securing adequate supplies for their families,  ensuring hygienic home environments for the most vulnerable in their care while all the while combatting water-borne diseases such as bilharzia, malaria and diarrhoea.   Women overwhelmingly bear the responsibility for household washing and cooking, care for children, prevention of disease and nursing of sick family members.  


Clean drinking water in one of our literacy circles while women discuss malaria and diarrhoea prevention 

And in all these challenges, access to water and its safe and hygienic use play a central role. It is because of women’s key role in water access and use that The United Nations emphasizes in its 2030 sustainability goals – 

“When communities initiate programs to improve access to water, it is critical to ask women about their needs and experiences.”  Water as women’s burden – Read more here: UN Water and Gender

Our literacy programs focus on developing understanding of how to ensure family water can be kept clean, treated and used to prevent disease as well as initiating projects in the community to support and improve water access and use – see more on this in Dust –  Water, Women and Literacy, below. 


The relentless struggles I outline above that our literacy participants face every day  reflect growing worldwide strains, intensified by climate change, on access to clean and plentiful water by the poor of the world. Sudan is just one of many countries which finds itself straddling this potentially grave resources fault line  –

“Global demand for water is increasing. The United Nations forecasts that if current water use patterns do not change, world demand will exceed supply by 40% by 2030. In such a scenario, it is hard to imagine that that women’s and girls’ experience will improve without intentional efforts.” Women Still Carry Most of the World’s Water


Scenes from Aljazeera’s documentary, Ramadan in Rural Sudan – traditional rural water collecting and distribution 

Below, donkey laden with full water-skins led by his master in rural Sudan 

fullsizerender-430Water is heavy. The WHO recommends 20-50 liters of water per person per day for drinking, cooking and washing. That amounts to hauling between 44 and 110 pounds of water daily for use of each household member. Women Still Carry Most of the World’s Water

fullsizerender-429Screenshot from Aljazeera’s Ramadan in Rural Sudan – watch this Youtube documentary below. Women in rural Sudan filling leather water-skins or “girba”.  


Leather well bucket or “dalu”, and water-skin, or “girba” – Michael Asher


Michael Asher, writer,  explorer and UN environment consultant gives us a taste of the sheer effort involved in collecting water in rural Sudan –

“Next time I threw the dalu (leather well bucket) in, my hands were trembling so much from the freezing water that I broke the great taboo: I let the rope slip through my fingers. I dropped the bucket, rope and all, into the well.  I peered in. The well was sheer-sided, ten foot deep: there was no way I was going to climb down. Now I’d have to go back to those kids with an empty water-skin, and admit I’d done the unthinkable. I could imagine their scathing comments.  I felt almost like crying. Then suddenly a grey-beard in tattered robes emerged like a spirit from behind some thorn-scrub not far away. I had the feeling he’d been watching me.  Without a word, he surveyed the scene, returned to the scrub and came back with a long, thin thorn-branch. He leaned over the well, fished out the dalu with great ease, then, together, we hoisted up water and filled the skin. I thanked him. “The thanks is to God,” he said.”

Extract from FB Page of writer and explorer, Michael Asher



Weighted water bucket and well, near Abri, Northern Province, 1980’s


A full waterskin or”girba” hanging from the side of a desert bus, early 80’s. Photo courtesy of Sudan English Teachers FB group 

Below, water collectors, near Merowe, Northern Province, 1980’s. My thanks to Judith Hawley of Sudan English Teachers FB Group for this photo. 


This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership

See What if you suddenly couldn’t read or write? to learn more about the daily challenges that illiteracy brings 


Please consider giving to our life-changing work. Just click on the link below to donate quickly and securely:

 Virgin Money Giving

Watch Aljazeera’s Ramadan in Rural Sudan video here – subtitled in Arabic 

Below, potter making traditional water vessels or ziah, near Abri, Northern Sudan in 1980’s




Dust – Urban Water Challenges; Women, Water and Literacy 


Dust storm on the outskirts of Khartoum, 2018.  

Sudan’s climate is becoming increasingly unstable and unpredictable. Dust storms can wreak havoc to normal working life and high levels of sand and dust are associated with numerous chronic eye conditions, which in turn negatively impact literacy.  Read Coffee and Conversation to see how a dust storm in Khartoum affected the life of one tea and coffee lady in the capital. 


Colonial era postcard of Khartoum dust storm

Learn more about our eye care project and the inspirational work of Dr. Nabila  in Grandmother’s School and in this short video –


Dust – Urban Water Challenges 

Climate change affects the developing world disproportionately and Sudan lies at the sharp end of rising annual temperatures, water supply pressures and desertification. 

Local government is committed to and tirelessly working towards providing running water to all Khartoum’s rapidly expanding hinterlands, in addition to improving running water provision in all schools – despite the pressures on water supply that climate change is exerting.  But  for many of Khartoum’s poorer citizens, such as our literacy participants, securing access to water can still be stressful. Many of the women who attend our literacy circles live in areas of the city where inhabitants have to rely on tanks filled with groundwater or barrels bought from the back of donkey carriages.   Imagine the strain of worrying constantly about having enough water to disinfect, cook and bathe in temperatures regularly exceeding 45º. 


Khartoum water distribution by donkey and cart – photo Pinterest. Read about the water challenges facing some of Khartoum’s districts in TheNiles Water Challenges

Only a third of households have access to proper sanitation, while about 68% of households have access to improved drinking water sources.  Taken together just about the third have simultaneous access to water and sanitation in the country with wide disparities between states; between urban-rural and between the richest and the poorest. Unicef : Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Sudan


We take access to plentiful water clean supplies for granted but remember –

Over 11% of child deaths in Sudan are caused by diarrhoea, attributed mainly to poor sanitation, water and hygiene. Two million children in Sudan suffer from acute malnutrition, 50% of which is associated with repeated diarrhoea or worm infections   Unicef : Water, Sanitation & Hygiene Sudan


Dust storm that grounded planes in 2018 – Khartoum 


Women, Water and Literacy  – How Water Literacy Makes a Difference 

The women who attend our literacy circles are committed to safeguarding and improving the health and educational opportunities of their families.  Water plays a central role in this and they know it.  


Our REFLECT literacy program incorporates awareness building on local resources, focus on changes in availability and quality of those resources – in the case of water, local wells, groundwater tanks, canals, etc –  and analysis of  potentially unsanitary water sources in their communities, such as ditches and post-flooding stagnant water pools.  


They discuss how to protect their clean water supplies at home, how to disinfect and treat wounds, sanitary food preparation and the health impact of stagnant contaminated water on their communities.  In the course of their literacy sessions, they  acquire the written terms they need to learn how to guard against water-borne diseases, make signs and posters for the community on water resources and sanitation and initiate campaigns for women on better water conservation and use.  Role plays and dramas on prevention of water-borne diseases such as malaria and watery diarrhoea and talks by ministry specialists on disease prevention all form part of our literacy program. 


Mapping of Local Health and Hygiene Resources – part of our REFLECT Literacy Program. Participants learn how to calculate distances and costs involved in water access, thus developing their numeracy skills 

Perhaps most importantly, our literacy program empowers women to undertake local tree planting and agricultural projects which focus on low water and heat resistant plant varieties to ensure the longterm sustainability of their communities, as well as generating income for their families.  In the course of  their work, they analyze how best to plant, irrigate and fertilize their crops in the most sustainable way.  I was privileged to see the birth of one such project initiated by our participants in a water-starved settlement near Jebel Aulia last year.  More on this project in coming posts. 

Such work gives much needed hope and practical inspiration for the future in a challenging era. 


Discussion and Brain Storming Points for REFLECT Literacy Sessions 


Communal water pots in a Khartoum street – embodying the generosity of the Sudanese to the visitor and passerby


Please consider giving to our life-changing work. Just click on the link below to donate quickly and securely:

 Virgin Money Giving










2 comments on “Heat and Dust

  1. aymanhassan2 says:

    Lovely pictures.


    1. You are very kind, Ayman and thank you so much for getting in touch. It is a privilege to hear from you and I am so glad you liked the Dongola links. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to folks there and one day, God willing, will go back.


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