Fragile services: the Juba water truck strike

The Eritrean community went on a protest yesterday, about the two violent deaths of Eritrean men in Juba in the last few weeks.  Xenophobia in South Sudan, particularly against nationals of neighbouring countries (or people who were long-term refugees in East Africa, or just look East African), is well-documented and depressing.  The consequences of the protest, though, were widespread because of another key aspect of the Juba economy.  The Eritrean community dominate the water trucking industry here, and they stopped work.

Water moves in tanks and jerrycans in Juba.  The lucky few have their own boreholes (hotels advertise this point, like having a spa in the UK).  Most people though, including myself, buy water from the blue tank trucks that are driven almost exclusively by Eritreans.  I don’t know how this particular community came to dominate the trucking business, or what their position is – most of the trucks have Juba Town Council logos, so I’m not sure whether this is a state business or a private one.  But you pay the trucks to have your gravity-drop tanks filled, maybe once a week at our compound, with a variety of types of water (and associated price grades): straight Nile water, brown and silty until it settles; sand-filtered water, a bit cleaner; or borehole water, for kitchens and adventurous drinking.

Yesterday, when it was clear no water would be delivered, the Munuki roads were filled with children, men and women carrying jerry cans.  In one case a small boy was dragging a broken suitcase filled with 1.5l discarded plastic bottles that he carefully filled from the extremely busy single borehole in Souk Libya.  Motorcycles were in short supply in the evening as boda drivers used their bikes to ferry water for their family and for cash.  There was a brief fight in the queue for the borehole pump.  It wasn’t panic, but it was significant work, time and money to re-supply the very busy neighbourhood.

The tanks are back in action today.  But sudden problems like this – and I was impressed by the strike and the demonstration, and am appalled by the two deaths – just hammer home the tenuous service provisions, ethnic and national monopolies of business sectors, services, companies and NGOs, and the serious everyday implications of xenophobic violence and politics in an extremely diverse town.


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Filed under Current affairs, South Sudan

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