Drinking water in Khartoum: Present status versus future plans: Price of water liter in Sudan more expensive than liter of benzene

By: Mohammed Osman

Khartoum- (Sudanow) – it is almost over a year and a half since we published this report comparing water prices to oil priced in Khartoum. The comparison could always stand today while the government is pondering on lifting subsidies on fuel. To the report by Amani Gandoul and Isam al Dahw (22 May 2012)

Experts have warned complacency in packing drinking water and means of storage in a country enjoying such huge water resources, could end up endangering both consumers and companies involved in the industry.

They called for reconsideration of the prices of water bottles which are likely more expensive than oil prices, ironically though Sudan remains to be one of the best in this resource compared to other countries.

Sudan’s water use average per individual is believed to amounts to around 5000 cubic meters annually, one of the highest in the world, according to most recent scientific statistics.

The Development Studies and Research Institute in cooperation with Chemical Engineering Division at the University of Khartoum and Bottled Water Division at the Chambers of Industry Union has recently organized a forum at the Specifications and Meteorology Hall in Khartoum which discussed the issue of drinking water in Khartoum State and possibility of bottling water in glass bottles instead of the currently used plastic bottles.

Abdulwahab Al-Tayeb, a lecturer at the Faculty of Water and Environment Engineering of Sudan University of Sciences and Technology, presented a paper to the forum titled “How to preserve drinking water wells in Khartoum State”, in which he stated that “the issue of water contamination towards the environment, in its various forms, has became a prominent issue accompanying human development in its physical and industrial aspects. The issue of underground water remains at the top in this respect”.
But in recent years Khartoum State witnessed a noticeable physical and industrial developments and a change in the living standard accompanied by a great population expansion.

Experts believe this resulted in great environmental impacts in many a field, including contamination of underground water because of the waste of water sanitation and the applied methods of discharging of them including drainage wells (Siphons). It also has been coupled with people resorting to drinking bottled water in lieu of the available running water in Khartoum. They, observers noted, believe that his was a sign of style, sophistication and social advancement.
In his paper, Al-Tayeb reviewed the role of the underground drilling companies in this issue together with their patterns of administration and the adopted planning means in drilling the final waste discharging wells.

He noted that, according to the most recent population census for 2008, Khartoum State population amounted to 7 million people, explaining that Khartoum State is one of the crowded area with unorganized distribution of its population where the people live at a very narrow line that begins from the banks of the Blue and White Niles and extends along the Nile Valley for 40 kilometers to the north and the center of Khartoum State.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) water standards, the salinity of potable water for man ranges between 100 and 600 parts in a million and does not exceed 1000 parts in a million. The ratio of salt and mineral is enough to satisfy man’s needs of these components and to make the food edible and non-harmful to human health. The percentage of salinity and other minerals is damaged according to the type of soil and nature of the rocks through which the water passes.

Accordingly, Sudanese Consumer Protection Society (SCPS) has demanded the water factories in Sudan to observe the international scientific specifications when bottling the water and abide by the regulations regarding keeping, using, dealing and storing of bottling of water, taking into account in this respect the country’s hard climatic conditions where the temperature reaches 50 Celsius sometimes.

Al-Tayeb further noted that contamination of ground water reservoirs is considered among the common problems in many towns of Sudan, saying that this contamination is a result of the unplanned expansion and rapid population growth in most of Sudan’s towns.

He went on to say that “”this in turn caused pressure on the underground water reservoirs which were exposed to contamination due to various human activities.”

The current studies on underground water contamination in Khartoum State constitute an example of Sudan cities’ contamination, the paper said.

He said the underground water covers %60 of the total water supply in Khartoum State’s three cities (Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North), while the water drawn from the Nile through the water stations covers around %40 of the state’s water supply.
He noted that the underground water in Khartoum State is found at the formation of the Nubian underground reservoir and the formation of Al-Gezira, explaining that it is divided into two reservoirs, the upper one and the lower one, separated by a thick muddy layer which its thickness differs from a region to another.

The River Nile represents one of the sources which feed the underground water in the Khartoum in addition to the rain water where the contamination appeared in many of the state’s water wells, matter which led to closing such wells in Al-Riadh, Al-Manshiya and Al-Tayef (according to the analysis results of Kilo (10) Lab.)

According to Altayeb, the general belief that the upper and lower reservoirs are separated and that the water is not contaminated has become untrue where the contamination can move horizontally towards the course of the water flow and affects the other areas and can similarly move downwards to certain depths.
Therefore, this contamination can be a reason enough to push the citizens to consume packed water which is also not completely free of faults.

However, the Sudanese Federation of the Chambers of Industry, namely the Chamber of the Food Industries- Bottled Water Section- recently issued a report on the problems facing bottled water industry in Khartoum.

The report pointed to at least ten problems in the bottled water in the country that need to be addressed. The ten problems are as follows: -

1. There are bottled water (19 liters) bearing names of factories which actually do not exist.
2. There are bottled water (19 liters) at markets and homes without stickers and unsafe for use and are distributed by individuals from their homes or from the street sometimes and they market them at the commercial places in the evening.
3. There are commercial places which refill the empty bottles with water from home water pipes and buy bottle covers from merchants and sell them as factory bottled commodities.
4. The bottled water in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, and 4 belong to registered factories licensed to operate in the market.
5. There are plastic factories for selling empty bottles to the water distributors as indicated in paragraphs (1-4). However, theses factories do not have water factories, matter which help in disseminating this dangerous phenomenon on human health.
6. Some people lease non-operating factories and then withdraw the factory’s empty bottles from the market before refilling them. Sometimes they even refill the bottles with the same sticker and the factory’s logo without bothering to remove the sticker of hide the registered commercial logo.
7. Some registered factories in the states fill the water bottles from different sources in Khartoum State and market them inside the state.
8. Most of the factories which operate with the water bottles (19 liters) do not have the required equipment needed to produce their own bottles.
9. Most of the bottled water is stored under the sun rays which expose them to damage and then spur legal problems between the merchants and the consumers.
10. The institutions entrusted with monitoring the market are weak.
11. There are many monitoring authorities with lack of a coordinating mechanism.
12. The high and multi-fees without observing the economic, commercial and financial status of the factories. Such fees as garbage, water, electricity, taxes, civil defense etc…
13. Lack of the necessary investment services at the industrial areas such as Suba (electricity, roads, water, police, civil defense, sanitation, communications, etc…)
14. Lack of hard currency to import production input to reduce the production cost.

The chamber concluded its report, saying “We are here putting in your hands this issue which concerns us. We have worked seriously to settle it with the aim to develop this industry to the highest level in terms of performance and organization, and to reactivate its governing mechanisms. We are looking forward to hearing your views and observations based on your knowledge and experience in this industry so that our people can enjoy their right in having healthy and safe water and so that we can all be able to achieve the aspired goals in this respect.”

In the meantime, Eng. Daoud Abbas, Chairman of Bottled Water Factories’ Division, acknowledged that there were problems with regard to the bottled water (19 liters) at the markets and homes as they are distributed without the sticker which indicates the date of production and date of expiry.

He added that these bottled water containers are above all else not safe and that their spread affects the human health.
He called for the importance of combating the negative phenomena in the water market, but at the same time he reiterated that they are working to deliver health water to the community individuals and that they are embarked on conducting a study on water economies with the participation of a number of scientists and researchers to be funded by the Central Bank of Sudan which he said welcomed to cooperate.

Eng. Khalid Ali Khalid, a former director in Khartoum State Water Corporation, on his part, affirmed that contamination represents the biggest menace that threatens the water consumers in Khartoum State, saying that the state depends on %52 of the underground water which were contaminated with the sanitation networks.
In this respect, he pointed out that many of Khartoum State’s water wells have been closed for contamination, namely at Al-Riyadh, Al-Manshiya, Al-Taif and a number of high class areas in the state.

Dr. Hassan Bashir, in a study he conducted recently, agreed that several areas in the country suffer from water scarcity and contamination, pointing out that the water is contaminated with sanitation water in the cities, particularly in some areas of the national capital.

Eng. Mahjoub Mohamed Salih from Khartoum Water Corporation, in the meantime, said one of the solution to the problem is to stop the companies operating in Siphons drilling from using huge machineries that have contaminated the clean water wells.
He urged for reactivating the laws in this respect, saying the water contamination issue could not yet be resolved because those companies are still operating.

It is to be noted that Khartoum State in 2010 issued a legislation preventing the use of modern drilling machines in drilling the Siphons to preserve the underground water reserve after it turned out that there are some drilling companies drill sanitation wells that sometimes amount to more than 200 feet at the time when the clean water level ranges between 100 and 200 feet.

During the discussions at the forum, it turned out that there was no water map, matter which necessitates establishment of great water projects and formation of a specialized administration of high performance.

Hassan Bashir, a Sudanese water expert, believes that the idea of a “water bank” which has already been adopted by some countries to enhance water security, develop the water sources and employ them in achieving sustainable rural development and providing water could be used in towns for purposes of drinking, manufacturing, sanitation and others.

He also recommended establishment of sanitation networks with scientific specification and designing of underground water wells in a suitable manner to block the upper layers, which are subject to contamination, with a cement ring to be placed between the wall of the well and the covering pipes.

Khartoum State Water Corporation, on its part, is exerting considerable effort to provide water services for the areas in need via provision of additional 200.000 cubic meters a day, experts and observers stated.

A cording to Khalid Hassan Ibrahim, Director General of Khartoum Water Corporation, the emergency plan for 2010 includes inauguration of more water stations and implementation of a number of water projects in addition to extension of water networks to ensure complete covering of all parts of the state.
The corporation provides its services for the state population through a number of Nile stations, underground water, dams, canals, hand pumps and surface wells, he said.

He added that there are 10 water administrations in Khartoum State and that around 8 million people benefit from their services, explaining that the Nile stations produce around 1,200,000 cubic meters.

Ironically, observers note, Sudan is rich of its water resources of rivers, lakes, underground water and rain water where the flow of internal water amounts to 30 billion cubic meters annually and the water flow from other countries 119 billion cubic meters a year. Additionally, the individual share of water, according to the most recent statistics, is set at 5000 cubic meters annually, the biggest rate in the world.

The country utilizes 14,6 billion cubic meters of its share in the Nile Water which amounts to 20,5 billion cubic meters according to the Nile Water Agreement.

Sudan’s reserves of underground water are estimated at around 9000 billion cubic meters, of which only 1.3 billion is actually utilized. The total storage capacity of all the dams in Sudan is set at around 16.7 billion cubic meters only.

However, and despite the above mentioned resources, the water industry has recently spread in the country and many local and foreign investors entered the lucrative domain where this sector has attracted investments of around 70 million US Dollars. Thus the operating factories in the field skyrocketed to 26 factories including modern and traditional ones.

A modern factory produces 100,000 liters of mineral water a day while the traditional one produces 50,000 liters a day. Furthermore, all the water production of the factories is consumed locally as for the increasing demand and therefore there is no surplus for exportation.

The consumption of the mineral water has spread all over the country where it is consumed at the government institutions, companies, hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, clubs, roads, public occasions and homes.

The reason behind the high consumption of mineral water is attributed to the country’s high temperature most of the year besides that most of the citizens prefer the mineral water as they falsely believe the public pipe water is contaminated.
Eng. Ahmed Dafalla, an employee at a mineral water factory, on his part, explained the reason behind the rush of the investors. He indicated that the daily sale of the factories range between 15000 to 40000 SDGs.

He explained that the factories sell the half-liter water bottle to the merchant for fifty piaster, which means the fifteen-bottle packet is sold for 750 piaster. Each merchant is given 10 packets with this price in addition to three packets free of charge besides a display refrigerator and delivery service. He further explained that the merchant sells the bottle for 1 SDGs which means he attains a hundred percent profit without much effort.

He wondered about the role of the consumer protection institutions and organizations which turn a blind eye on this high price where a liter of water is sold for 2 SDGs which is more expensive than the liter of benzene which is 1,9 SDGs.

He pointed out that the water investment sector lost its attraction and started to face many problems, matter which threatens this sector with complete stoppage, affirming that 7 factories have already stopped and their owners presented them for sale while their employees are pursuing their rights at the courts.
Eng. Dafalla further enumerated the barriers facing the sector, saying that the customs fees on these factors amount to %77 and that the dollar exchange rate was increasing every day at a time when they need industrial production inputs and spare parts not to mention the production fees, the Value Added Tax (VAT) and the high electricity prices where the least factory pays more than 24000 SDGs monthly to keep running.

He added that high fees are imposed on the foreign investors in the water sector compared to their local peers, urging the concerned authorities to remove these barriers so that this sector could manage to continue.

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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