Mayor of Juba: How to transform sanitation in South Sudan

Thousands of researchers, students, politicians, and more gathered at World Water Week to discuss some of the largest challenges facing the world today. Chris Swaka, Mayor of Juba in South Sudan, was one of them, telling audiences about his plans to transform the city.

Mayor of Juba: How to transform sanitation in South Sudan

South Sudan won independence as a nation four years ago, and in many ways is a relatively 'young' country.

But national identity is still strong, and the people of South Sudan are determined to overcome the challenges that come with advancing a developing country.

Chris Swaka, Mayor of Juba, was in Stockholm at World Water Week on Thursday to address one of the key issues: Sanitation in the city.

”Why do we have a sanitation problem in Juba?” The mayor began by posing the question.

”It's important to point out that the population of Juba has grown rapidly – between 2002 and 2012, it tripled from 160,000 people to more tan 500,000 people.”

Even before gaining official independence, the country was semi-autonomous and people could tell which direction i was headed, Mayor Swaka said.

”There are still pockets in the country that remain unstable, and so even before independence, people were attracted to the city. There is a huge push from rural areas into the urban areas,” he explained.

Unfortunately, 21 years of civil war in the country meant that infrastructure was poor – even in the cities.

”Only 2 percent of the population of Juba is connected to sewer lines,” Swaka said. ”Just over half of households have toilets, many of which are shared.”

The city council of Juba collaborated with USAID and SUWASA to conduct a study of sanitation and hygiene conditions in the city, and also found that only 34 percent of the population engaged in proper hygiene practices, such as washing hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

Juba city does have a few public toilets as well, but Swaka noted that they are generally poorly maintained, and that gender issues and human rights are not well-implemented.

”Most of the toilets are just septic tanks and latrines which need to be emptied, and many are in disrepair,” he said.

”We do have a system to empty the toilet sludge with trucks, but it's a challenge and these trucks can pose an environmental hazard.”

Another massive obstacle for the city has been the cracks between different types of governments, and the mandates given to various levels.

Although there is a water treatment plant nearby, the treatment center is out of Juba City's jurisdiction, making it difficult for the city to do anything about repairs and rehabilitation.

”It's Juba City Council's responsibility to reform sanitation, and yet the treatment center is out of our mandate, so we have to transport sludge outside the city,” Swaka said.

”There is no proper synergy in how things work; no apparent government spending to the sector either. There is inadequate legislative framework.”

But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities, the mayor said.

”There are 150 trucks managing the sludge in Juba,” he said. ”And it turns out that more than 90 percent of them are privately owned. So the private sector is already very advanced.”

Swaka and the city council saw broader opportunities for collaboration, and together with USAID and SUWASA began forming a plan to reform sanitation in the city.

The Juba City Sanitation Reform and Investment Plan spans 2015 to 2030, covering both short and long-term measures.

”We will focus on infrastructure development, from toilets to treatment, and behavioural change, constructing household toilets and good hygiene practices,” Swaka explained.

But perhaps most important is how to accomplish this. Swaka and his colleagues and partners decided to arrange a 'governance council', combining the various cabinets of various levels of government so that they could work together and finally get something done.

”We do have a lot of challenges with mandates which overlap,” Swaka said.

”There are different mandates in different sectors. For instance in South Sudan, we have the central government which has environment issues in the Ministry of Planning, as well as infrastructure and health – there are many mandates on many levels.”

The key, he said, was to gather all of the cabinets with mandates relating to sanitation in one council, so they can work as a team.

By partnering with the private sector as well – particularly since it is already so well-developed – the city can strengthen investments in the sanitation sector and encourage players from all levels of society to participate.

”Partnerships are key. To move onward we need $189 million,” Swaka said.

Where is that money going to come from?

”Every house in the region should have a toilet in the household, so 50 percent of the cost will come from household contributions,” he said.

An additional 39 percent of the cost will come through public financing and from development partners, ensuring that the sanitation efforts and toilets run well. Finally, 13 percent will be investment from the private sector.

The country has been working with the US and countries like Japan as well, and over the past couple of years South Sudan has received significant aid towards building additional water treatment facilities and expanding fresh water supplies.

Supplying fresh water to all the residents of a largely poor, still-developing city is a challenge – but it is one which South Sudan and Juba city will overcome, Swaka declared.

”In developing countries there is a recognition that the government has to work for the poor,” Swaka said. ”Our civil society advocates the rights of the poor, and in South Sudan the civil society is very strong. So we will work and do this as one team.”