Water of places and places of water
In Abol, a village with about 400 inhabitants, the availability of water became an urgent issue during every dry season. In the months before the rainy season was due to come, any possible source of water would be utilized by residents to cover their needs until the relieving rains arrived in May or June, and continued until October. During this time many shallow dry riverbeds and watercourses would be filled for some months by the downpours and the water running from the mountains. So concerns over water diminished temporarily with the heavy rains. During the rainy season, the net of watercourses running through the village carried water to such an extent that trees in riverbeds that were dry for much of the year sometimes had dead branches and leaves caught in their own branches up to 2 metres from the ground, testifying to the huge volume of water that had flown over them during the rains. Cultivated terraces on the hillsides were flooded, and when the water level subsided, leaving the soil still moist, but not wet, some small vegetable gardens in the riverbeds flourished with onions, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes, and mango trees blossomed.
I got to know Abol’s waters in three ways: through guided tours, through tracks and spots recorded in my GPS device, and through talks with my hosts. Each way increased my literacy in Abol’s environment in a different way.
During my stay, I embarked on several tours around the village and the mountains that form the hinterland of today’s main settlement area, accompanied by guides from the village. My guides were four men who had lived in this hinterland all through the 15 years the war had affected the village. In their accounts, water appeared as an element in places of memory: plenty in the caves and springs of the mountains that protected from bomb shells and governmental soldiers; seasonally scarce in the houses they had left during the war and they recently started to rebuilt near the new down-hill road to the district capital.
The mountain tops, springs, watercourses, and confluences they pointed out were all named and blended water sources and war memories into a landscape: there the mountain of Nd??ala?, where the rebel army had had their camp, demanding wood, livestock, and water from the civilians; there Gi?iir, a water?carrying cave system, which had been the major source of water throughout the war and was still used as an everyday source of water; there the spring N?i, where water was hoped to flow until December.
I recorded the places and waterways I had learned about in a GPS device and redrew them later as a map. Instead of the places of memory I had encountered during the tours, I had now a two?dimensional, fixed picture, which communicates little experience, but « tames » the narratives’ complexity  A Garmin eTrex Legend HCx was used; the geographical...:
Figure 1. Lower Abol, main sources of water
In the descriptions of my host, Yussif, the down-hill sources of water turned into projects. He had spent his childhood in the mountains, then moved down, migrated to the capital Khartoum, and considered now coming back to Abol again. Although still weighing the options for himself and his family, he has been engaging in the issues of his birth?place since the cessation of violent hostilities in 2002, when some started to risk building their houses down-hill once more. At the same time, some of those who had lived in Khartoum during the war re-contacted their families. They found the same problem of lack of water that had prompted people – even before the war – to move in direction of the district capital Heiban or even to Khartoum.
Yussif remembered that he came back to Abol in 2002 to find only seven families left there. He suggested to them that they should move to a place with more water, but they refused and told him their plan to build a well, without tools if necessary. Yussif collected money from migrants in the towns and abroad, and brought tools from Khartoum. They tried for two years to build a stable structure, but with each rainy season the walls of the well caved in. Then they contacted the organization Norwegian Church Aid, which began to support the project. A 13 metre deep shaft was dug, at which point a mason built the well. However, a large stone prevented them digging any deeper, and all efforts to break it failed, leaving the well’s water rather shallow.
In 2007, a further improvement occurred, when a water pump financed by WES was installed by a Khartoum-based company. But the pump also encountered a crisis: In 2009, it began to bring up dirty, smelly water. Yussif had diagnosed that it needed new pipes, and when an attempt to collect money in Abol for the repairs failed, he sent Elias, a former employee of the National Water Corporation (NWC) in Khartoum who had since returned to Abol, with Yussif’s own money to buy pipes from NCA and install them. After the repairs, however, the water quality remained questionable, and a privately initiated test in one of NWC’s labs showed the water to be non?potable according to national standards  The implications of this situation were discussed....
Another initiative was begun in 2009, as a joint programme of WES and the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD) to provide a water yard with electric pump to the community. IFAD had commissioned WES to prepare and implement this project, and in line with their regulations a quarter of the costs were collected from the community. An engineer and a drilling team arrived in Abol, but the drilling failed to reach water and the attempt was cancelled. No further delegation arrived; requests to the organizations and the government in Kadugli were fruitless, and the money collected from the community was not paid back. The situation of lack of water continued.
Especially the failure of the 2009 project seemed puzzling: costs were covered, a clear objective was defined, and the implementation was supposed to be a straightforward routine process. In order to understand what had happened, I focused on how village residents and governmental experts perceived mutual encounters.
In South Kordofan’s capital Kadugli, I met Salam Kodi, the head of the water and sanitation department of the organization Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), who had been trained in engineering geology. I asked him about his approach to such encounters; he answered with a description of the organization’s standard process. According to this standard, he initiates contact with the « target community » by presenting himself to the « village head ». Ideally, all previous studies are known, as well as political and other tensions, which could cause conflicts over drill hole positioning and subsequent water distribution. To this end, he sits first with the village head and plans the next steps; either just based on the head’s information or with an assembly, in best case the village committee (VC). This committee will be supervisor of the new water source.
In order to communicate his ideas to me, he started to make notes and drawings on a piece of paper, which became our medium of translation – from Arabic to English and back; from stories to numbers; from landscapes to graphs (see fig. 2).
Based on the hot spots of the so?called community mapping, he does a survey. He creates a topographic map to identify the structural elements of the landscape, such as main watercourses (the hatched part on the paper). To discover aquifers, electromagnetic measurements are made diagonally to the watercourses with a SAS 1000 device that indicates water content and permeability of the underground structure  The Terrameter SAS 1000 is a product of the Sweden-based.... Only the most effective points nearest to the population are recommended, while the final decision ideally lies in the hand of the community.
Figure 2. Note of the head of the water and sanitation department of NCA in Kadugli
Similar ideal processes have been described in several handbooks and manuals, which stress the « stakeholder approach » and « consensus?based procedures » (e.g. MIWR?GoNU et al., 2009: 7). But already Salam’s talk showed several cracks that appear in real encounters: impromptu assessment, often termed common sense, instead of intensive surveys, and difficult negotiations mark the everyday life of hydrogeologists in « the field »  See Durand (2001) for an anthropological perspective.... He recounted how he learned in a village, where supporters of the former war parties struggled for spheres of influence, that a quarrel over a borehole for a pump started, after he had drilled it. His « mediation » was to drill a second one and, in his words, they should get along with it. In his understanding, he could not work with agreement of all leaders, because the problem appeared after the fact. Understanding and using existing leadership structures has also importance for maintenance, as he argued with another example, where a pump « survived » several years, because it was placed in front of a village leader’s house, who controlled how the handle was used.
The existence of a functioning committee was also seen as a precondition, as it was the institution that can always address the nearest governmental representative according to spheres of influence. This provides a channel, through which the organization as original provider of the service can legitimately communicate. He asserted, however, that large organizations, such as IFAD and WES, but also different ministries, often create their own organs in villages, causing overlapping interfaces that cause confusion.
Indeed, the encounters that were unfolded in different narratives about Abol’s water yard were confusing. A central figure of most narratives was the village representative to the former rebel movement, cAz al?D?n. He had come in 1989 from the district capital Heiban to Abol and settled on a hill near today’s market, surrounded by rebel soldiers on the ridges. His house was in a strategic position on this hill, and a major part of his activities aimed at establishing the central buildings and constructions of post-war Abol near the new road, the new school, and his house.
He recounted that the water yard project was only initiated after he had spoken personally with high-ranking politicians in Kadugli. IFAD had promised to construct a water yard in the village, and the organization had demanded 15 000 SDG (at that time about 5 000 €) as a community contribution. But the collection in Abol amounted to only 1 000 SDG, so migrants in Khartoum contributed 9 000 SDG, and the remaining gap was filled by a donation of the then deputy governor of South Kordofan, who was from a nearby village.
After 15 000 SDG had been handed over to IFAD, they waited for the water yard to come. When finally an engineer arrived, he went with the former National Water Corporation (NCW) employee Elias in a wide circle around the village. The engineer had said that there was good water further uphill, near cAz al?D?n’s house, and marked a particular spot. When the drilling team arrived, it had actually started to drill a borehole for a water pump in another village, but left after a quarrel with the population there about the location. So they came to Abol with seven pipes and drilled, but had to stop due to solid rocks after only two pipes had been put in the ground. They then left.
At this point IFAD convened a meeting in Abol, where the following options to proceed were discussed, since the water yard option had to be regarded as having failed: 1) a water reservoir was considered impossible, because of Abol’s topography; 2) the construction of dams would require much more time; 3) so the best option would be to give back the money the community had contributed. This last option was refused, because the assembly demanded an immediate solution. Nothing else happened.
Another story was told by Elias, the former NWC employee just mentioned. After they had failed to smash the rock at the bottom of the well, he, Yussif, and some other men of the village had considered other options, long before the meeting with IFAD. They disregarded a reservoir, because the soil around Abol that could be dug was mostly over sand, meaning that it would take a lot of effort to reach the rock layer. Therefore they had preferred the idea of installing more water pumps.
In Elias’ narrative, the IFAD delegations went exclusively with the village representative, cAz al-D?n, and the drilling was both undertaken at the wrong spot and in a manner that was technically wrong. He himself had taken out, examined and cleaned the 11 pipes of the existing water pump, each of 3 metres length, and saw about 2 metres of water below; further down, he was sure, one would find easily accessible groundwater. Furthermore, the drilling team people used 3?inch pipes, which are for water pumps, not the 4?inch pipes used for water yards. The blame, he felt, should therefore lie somewhere between cAz al-D?n and the organization.
In the narratives of others, a further source of blame appeared: the village representative had insisted that the water yard be near his own house at the market, which angered many people. This anger was all the greater since some recounted that IFAD’s engineer had spoken about the presence of an « underground lake », which would have admitted easily three or four water pumps.
I went on to consult employees of the organizations. In IFAD’s headquarter in Kadugli, the executive director told a new story: on the initiative of IFAD, WES had committed in the rainy season 2008/2009 to a survey and implementation of the water yard, according to IFAD stipulation, with a 25% share of the costs to be provided by the community (15 000 SDG) and the rest from IFAD (45 000 SDG). Both prospective locations suggested to WES by the « people of Abol » were found to be dry, and the proposal to drill further away was refused, therefore WES should have paid back the money to Abol’s community.
By this time, however, IFAD had proposed a deep survey near the village, and WES had to wait out the rainy season in order to start afterwards. But then a village in eastern South Kordofan experienced a drought, and the governor ordered all organizations to focus their attention there. At this point another WES delegation was supposed to go to Abol; they never did.
Finally, I went to WES at the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) in Kadugli. The story offered by the geological engineer who had led the preliminary survey in Abol was short: In 2008, a delegation from the MoWR went to Abol, in order to survey the water resources. The result was a study of ten possible spots for drilling, all of which turned out to have only small amounts of water. The report ended with the recommendation to build two dams in the main riverbed, upstream of the existing pump that WES had already constructed. The report also noted that 15 000 SDG would be needed for further study and implementation of the dams. What happened then is that the study disappeared in the vice?governor’s office under the heap of other things to be done.
The second part of the story starts at the beginning of 2009 with IFAD, which commissioned a study for a water yard; this was conducted by the engineer Sulim?n A?mad, with whom I also spoke. He, like all the geologists in WES, works on commission, which in this case was the contract with IFAD. He searched in the general area chosen by the village representative cAz al?D?n. He searched according to geological features and with the help of a Terrameter SAS 1000; two spots were chosen for drilling. The amount of water found was insufficient, however, and therefore other solutions such as dams were offered to « the village », but were refused. In any case, WES took, in accordance with its regulations, 30% of the overall costs of failed projects, which in this case amounted to about 18 000 SDG. Since no further study was commissioned, the whole issue ran dry at this point.
Two years later, Abol’s people were again surrounded by war, returning once more to relying on the water in the mountain caves, and any new period of construction will start in a situation very much like that existing when I last visited the village.