Solar-Powered Water Technology Supporting South Sudanese Farmers on the Frontlines of Climate Change

written by Katie Fettes

photo Credit: Jean Luc Habimana, 2019

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 12.33.06 PMAfrica is the continent most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, despite accounting for only 2-3 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Up to 70 percent of the continent’s population depends on agriculture, with 95 percent of this production relying on rainfall. Increased water scarcity due to irregular rainfall patterns is bringing droughts and flooding, the spread of waterborne diseases, biodiversity loss, food insecurity, and conflicts over scarce resources. It has been estimated that almost all Sub-Saharan African countries will face water scarcity by 2025 and that by 2050, Sub-Saharan Africa might only be able to fulfill 13 percent of its total food needs if the current rate of change persists. Climate change challenges are compounded by a low capacity for governments to respond. This confluence of forces is driving millions of people to flee their homes in search of food, safety, and prospects for a better future – although mass migration into urban areas brings challenges of its own. One of these migrants was James Thuch Madhier.

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James was born into war in Southern Sudan, Africa. In 1998, as a boy, he bore witness to a famine that claimed the lives of 70,000 people that was the hardest hitting in his home region of Bahr-el-Ghazal. At age 15, James fled water and food insecurity, and the immediate risk of becoming a child soldier, and found refuge in a camp in Kenya. In 2014, he made his way to Toronto, Canada, through a scholarship program that supports refugee students. Finding himself surrounded by an abundance of technology, resources, and opportunity, James struck out to leverage the available resources to shape the future of people at the mercy of climate change and conflict; to build sustainable solutions that make migration a choice and not a last resort as it was for him. In 2017, The Rainmaker Enterprise was born.

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The Rainmaker Enterprise is a not-for-profit organization leveraging solar energy to access safe water for human consumption and regenerative agriculture in hard-to-reach places, currently in South Sudan. Across South Sudan, over half the population lacks access to clean drinking water. In 2019, a record 61 percent of the population faced crisis levels of food insecurity due to insecurity, lack of adaptive infrastructural systems, and climate-induced crop failures. In 2017, South Sudan ranked among the top five most vulnerable countries to climate change. In response, Rainmaker seeks to build sustainable infrastructure that endows communities with intergenerational assets to become more resilient, adaptive, and empowered to face the challenges of today and build better futures.

Rainmaker is installing its first project, a solar-powered water pump for regenerative agriculture in the community of Thiet in Western South Sudan – James’ former hometown and an agro-pastoralist community on the frontlines of climate change. The well is currently supplying 3,000 people with clean drinking water, and the organization is in the process of implementing a solar-powered water pump connected to a drip irrigation system. The initiative is designed to change the way the community approaches farming, says Rainmaker’s project officer, Mathok Kur. Cultivating year-round will improve climate resilience and food security. Revenue generated from the sales of produce supports local livelihoods while maintaining the technology. 

By building holistic and integrated solutions, Rainmaker goes beyond adapting to climate change and seeks to empower people to be champions of carbon sequestration and climate solutions. The practice of regenerative agriculture – including the use of organic manure, crop rotation, intercropping, and planned holistic grazing – restores ecosystem and soil health. Healthy soil stores more carbon and produces more food. With the right tools, Rainmaker envisions our farmers at the forefront of meeting growing global food demands while drawing down global sources of carbon emissions and improving food systems. 

Locally and communally managed water supply systems also offer a mechanism for cooperation, while productive livelihood opportunities reduce the risks for young men to join militia groups or engage in intercommunal conflict. The global security sector reinforces the potential of addressing climate change and security simultaneously: “Climate-proofing development…for vulnerable nations which are likely hotspots of instability and conflict, as well as climate-proofing other policies affecting those regions, should be a priority for conflict prevention.” 

By merging his worlds and combining clean technology, regenerative agriculture, and water management with traditional practices, James has opened the door for his community to restore food and water security, peace, and human dignity. Conflict and climate change forced one man to flee his home, yet this created the conditions that led to the founding of The Rainmaker Enterprise. In the face of such complicated global and systemic challenges, the Rainmaker example encourages us to connect the dots, to create synergies, to merge worlds, and to see the vast opportunities that exist around each of us to make a difference. Speaking at Rainmaker’s Water for Peace event held in 2018, Lieutenant-General the Honourable Romeo A. Dallaire said: “The future belongs to those who dare to imagine, create and explore, and to those who have the courage to bring these processes into practical being. The Rainmaker Enterprise is looking into the future and shaping it.” It all starts with water. 


End note: 

World Water Day takes place on March 22 this year and focuses on Water and Climate Change. Experts state: “Action plans to tackle climate change need to be integrated across different sectors and coordinated across borders. And they must have one thing in common: safe and sustainable water management.”

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