However the referendum in South Sudan turns out, one thing will not go away quickly: the lack of water in the region. The International Committee of the Red Cross, however, is at work on a project that will mitigate that problem in at least one town, and will hopefully be replicated in other regions if successful. Solar-powered water pumps. Akobo is in southeast Sudan, near the Ethiopian border, and is at least a temporary home to thousands who fled violence in their own regions in 2009. More than 55,000 people there don't have enough water—meaning they are often living with less than two liters of clean water a day.
ICRC explains the project:
A powerful pump extracts water from tens of metres below the ground and transfers it to elevated tanks. Under the effect of gravity, the water then flows from the tanks through pipes to public water distribution points in town. Those pumps need electricity, and the supporting structures for a total of 420 solar panels are now in place, with the components of the system currently en route from Germany to Akobo. We expect the project to be completed in the first quarter of 2011.
Once functional, ICRC says, the project will be able to supply 10 liters of water a day for people, as well as provide water for a school, hospital, several new administrative buildings, and other distribution points used by both people and livestock.
Importantly, the project will also be training the water authorities to use the solar pumping system.
The ICRC says it's had positive experiences with similar projects in Eritrea, and is considering expanding the technology into Kenya and elsewhere in Africa.
This certainly isn't the first project to take advantage of solar power to access water in arid regions, but every one brings more promise to the people who will benefit. Hopefully this won't be the last.
More on Sudan and solar power in Africa
Southern Sudanese Referendum Opens an Opportunity to Protect a Last Great Wilderness
Why Conservation Matters in Conflict Zones
Solar-Powered Irrigation Creates a Harvest of Plenty in Sub-Saharan Africa