UN Volunteers bringing water relief to Darfur

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16 Jul 2012

UN Volunteers bringing water relief to Darfur

Located in the west side of Sudan, Darfur is one of the many African regions affected by desertification, which, combined with a recent history of armed conflict, a high number of internally displaced persons and a very fragile economy, creates challenging living conditions. Against this background, the African Union - United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has deployed a team of UN Volunteers consisting of onegeophysicist, one water analyst, three hydro geologists, four engineering assistants and five water and sanitation technicians into Darfur to work on water and environmental issues, while contributing to peace building in the region.

Oliver Phiri is one of them. Born in Malawi, Mr. Phiri is a hydrologist assigned to the Water and Environment Protection Section in Nyala, South Darfur. He works for the Water Sources Search and Development Unit, and is in charge of identifying potential borehole drilling sites, supervising the development of the recommended sites for water production, and installing submersible pumps. The goal of this assignment is to ensure that the Mission’s team sites in South Darfur and the surrounding villages have enough water to meet their daily needs. Proper water management, says Mr. Phiri, is the first step to creating conditions to mitigate desertification and to build and enhance general living conditions.

Since 2008, Oliver has supervised surveys of potential water sources at 12 team sites, and coordinated drilling of 10 boreholes to install water pumps. His work has brought the precious liquid to thousands of people in UNAMID and in the camps for internally displaced persons.


Oliver Phiri holds a Masters degree in Integrated Water Resources Management from University of Dar es Salam, Tanzania. Currently, he is working on another Masters degree in International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid. After finishing his studies, Oliver worked as a teacher until he joined Drill Tech and Engineering Ltd. as a Hydrologist, and then moved to the public sector as a community water supply and sanitation officer.

Oliver Phiri, (Malawi) a UNV Hydrologist with UNAMID, tests a pump in Labado village, South Darfur.  

Along with these duties, and with the idea of transferring his skills to two of his colleagues, Mr. Phiri has managed to develop other means to reuse parts to make modified pumps. “The modified pumps work much better that factory pumps,” he says. “This teaches us that you can have all the equipment but if you don’t have the necessary skills, it is the same as having nothing.”

Desertification is one of the most significant environmental problems of our time. According to estimates by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), one quarter of the Earth’s land is threatened by desertification, a problem that is affecting the livelihood of some one billion people in more than 100 countries. Their farming and grazing activities are becoming less productive every day.

Having grown up in a village, Mr. Phiri knows how people in rural areas struggle to get water, which is often of dubious quality. Women and children are highly affected by this situation because they are usually the ones in charge of bringing the resource to the household. “As a UN Volunteer, I know I cannot reach out to each and every one in need, but I am sure of being part of a solution to the problem,” says Mr. Phiri. “Water is life and there is no substitute for it.”

Story by Natalia Herrera Eslava - UNV Field Unit