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Empowering Women: PSI South Sudan’s Clean Water Work with Women Sellers

Home demo kids 2I’m in South Sudan for the first time since their recent independence.  There’s been a tremendous amount of development since I first visited this new country four years ago.  During my first visit to the capital of Juba, there was only one short paved road that lead from the airport and now there are miles of paved roads.  While there’s a lot of development, there’s also a lot of concern about the future both because of the potential for armed conflict with the north and because of the stop in the flow of oil which has decimated government revenues.  For example, building on the new airport terminal has come to a halt and there’s a fear of many services being discontinued because of the oil embargo.

Jason Katharine Cate 2I’m hosted by Jason Walton, the acting country representative from PSI South Sudan, and also traveling with Cate O’Kane and Katharine McHugh of PSI in the US.  It’s been 18 months since my last visit and I’m eager to see the progress of the program.

Nile water collecting 2


Juba is on the banks of the majestic Nile which still provides one of the best ways to transport goods due to the lack of decent roads in the country.  It’s the source of water for washing and bathing.  And, the Nile is also the source of water for drinking.  In fact, except for a very small area of the central city that now has piped infrastructure, everyone else in this city of nearly 1 million relies on the Nile for their drinking water.  Most do not go to fetch water themselves but have it delivered by bicycle or by tanker trucks.  But whether it’s hauled or delivered by bicycle or tanker truck, the water is untreated, filthy, and contaminated. 

Nile bathing and water 2We visit one of the water collection points early in the morning.  A steady stream of men are collecting water and filling up as many as eight 20-liter jerry cans of filthy water that they sell for about $0.33 each. 

Nile bicycle 2



For this same price, PSI provides enough of the P&G water purification packets to treat 120 liters of clean water.  Jason explains this to some of the women who have gathered to watch me treat the water with the P&G packets.  There’s a lot of enthusiasm and PSI will bring back a team tomorrow to not only demonstrate but sell the packets.

Nile Jason with PUR 2For a short-time, some donors supported chlorination of the water as it was gathered by the bicycles and tanker trucks.  While this sounded good on paper, it doesn’t work in a country as chaotic as South Sudan since only some of the water was being chlorinated.  So, consumers had no way of knowing whether there water had been treated.  It’s a much better strategy to treat water at the point that it’s used to make sure that it’s safe, particularly since it is frequently re-contaminated during transit to homes. 

Nile sign 2Luckily, the practice of haphazard chlorination of only some of the water at the point of collection has stopped and there are signs to tell folks that they should either use the P&G packets (still called PUR in South Sudan for the next few months) or the chlorine tablets called Waterguard.

Trade 1 2Jason explains to me the multi-prong strategy of PSI to provide the water purification packets as we travel.  First we visit some of the wholesalers and retailers who are selling the packets at a subsidized price.  These traders are happy to be selling the packets and many of them tell us that they use the packets at home for themselves to make their drinking water clean and healthy.  Several of the wholesalers, including Josephine of St Kititzo Medical Centre, are selling thousands of packets every month.

Demo instructions 2PSI also provides the packets through health clinics and this is a great way to credential the efforts through health workers.  We’ve seen this is a powerful tool in other countries including Ethiopia and DR Congo.  The nurses and other health workers do demonstrations when mothers are waiting to see the doctor or nurse.

Demo baby 2A new part of the PSI strategy is to work with local community based organizations and train some of their volunteers to sell the packets.  This effort is funded by USAID and has significantly increased the sales of the P&G water purification packets.  I meet with 4 of the women who are taking part in this income generating activity.  They’re doing this as a supplement to the income from their other jobs which include selling flour and other products in the local market, working with the government, and working at the health clinic.  Each of them is able to supplement their income by about $10 per month from the profit made selling the water treatment products.

Home demo Kidin Rose 2Kiden Rose tells me that she appreciates the extra income to help put food on the table and that it provides a cushion of funds in case of emergencies such as her children becoming sick.  But a primary motivator for all of the women is to help the families in their community stay healthy.  They tell me enthusiastically that they use the P&G water purification packets to purify their drinking water and that it’s made a difference in the health of their children.  The extra income, helping their neighbors, and keeping their families healthy are the reasons that the women have chosen to sell the packets.  It’s clear that they feel very empowered with this job and take it seriously.

Demo crowd 2We visit one of the local markets where these women sell their water purification products.  It doesn’t take long before a crowd gathers to watch them doing the demonstration with the P&G packets.  There’s quite a bit of chaos in the market including a rather inebriated person who tries to interrupt, but the crowd knows how to deal with this interloper and just ignores him.  As soon as Rebecca Peter, the community based seller for this market, finishes stirring the contaminated water and it starts turning clear, there’s a lot of excitement to buy the packets. 

Demo stirring 2With the help of a PSI translator who can speak both English and Juba Arabic, I quickly start interviewing the purchasers.  There’s no way I can talk to all of the customers because there are so many and the selling continues at a frantic pace for about half an hour.  Based on my random survey, it seems that roughly half of the customers are frequent users of the packets and the other half are seeing and buying the packets for the first-time. 

Demo customer 1 2Serelina Tabor has stopped with her son to buy 24 packets and tells us this will meet her family’s need for clean water for several weeks.  She usually buys her packets at the clinic but it’s been convenient to shop at the market today.  She’s been a regular user for almost a year and feels that her family is healthier with the clean water.






Home demo water 2For my last stop today, I ask to visit the home of one of the regular users of the P&G packets.  Like the majority of people in Juba, Jacqueline uses water from the Nile River that is delivered by tanker truck and dispensed into the 50 gallon blue barrels that are found beside nearly every home in the city. 


Home demo child 2Jacqueline has a large family of 13 people and she uses 4 packets to treat 40 liters of water every day.  Several members of her family know how to use the packets and they’re clearly experienced in the practice.  Jacqueline stores the filtered water in a large clay pot.  The water slowly evaporates through the clay and keeps the water refreshing and cool in the oppressive heat. 

Home demo clay pot 2When I ask Jacqueline if any of her neighbors are also using the packets regularly, she rattles off the names of about 15 of her nearby neighbors.  It’s clear that there’s a high acceptance in this community.  Jacqueline plans to continue to treat her water and tells me that she appreciates PSI and P&G for making the packets available to her at an affordable price.

Home demo Jacqueline 2




The last and important part of the PSI strategy for providing the packets is to provide the supply chain and behavior change expertise to train other humanitarian groups who are providing the packets for free to vulnerable communities who cannot afford to purchase them.  This is critical in the more remote rural areas with unsafe water where there is little cash following the long civil war. 

Home waving bye 2Just like the social marketing of the packets, the donation of the packets has also grown steadily.  In fact, Jason and I review plans that should provide a total of more than 100 million liters of clean drinking water in South Sudan during this year.  It’s a huge effort that will reach hundreds of thousands of people.  Thank you to PSI and our other partners in South Sudan including UNICEF, Save the Children, Goal, ADRA, Plan International, Oxfam, the Malaria Consortium, FHI360, and MedAir for their work to help this new nation.  While I’m hoping for the best for South Sudan, it’s likely going to be a very rough y


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