Sudan is the largest country on the African continent and possibly one of the most complex. It is a microcosm of humanitarian challenges: in the western region of Darfur about 2 million people (one third of the population) has been displaced by a conflict that broke out in 2003; meanwhile, South Sudan is struggling to rebuild and recover from more than two decades of civil war; and in the East chronic food insecurity, underdevelopment and sporadic conflict are major concerns. The volatile security situation means many people lack access to food and in farming areas many fields cannot be harvested. The conflict caused a breakdown of trade and markets.

The UN and EU support communities in the Red Sea State, a region where the harsh desert climate and isolation of many of its communities make development difficult. Despite the challenges, these tight knit communities have remarkable results. Before the support of the UN and the EU, the communities had already formed the Arbaat Development Association, a local organization intended to address the region’s development needs.

“Before, this land was dry. We grew only enough to feed the community” says 43-year-old Aicha from one of the 37 community farms supported in the region. In her community farm, 15 women farmed the land in previous years, but crops were extremely limited due to lack of water. “After the project installed the water system we are able to have a business; we not only have food to eat but extra money to buy things like furniture for our homes” says Aicha.

The main crop cultivated by the women is abusabean, a crop used as cattle feed. It grows easily and abundantly in Sudan, provided there is water. Many of the other community farms here also grow vegetables, yielding excellent results. Members work on the farms every morning and every evening; and transport the vegetables to the markets in Port Sudan, Atbara and sometimes even to Khartoum. “Everybody talks about the Arbaat vegetables” says one of the vegetable sellers in the Port Sudan market. “They are grown without pesticides and are fresh and assorted. Really, they are the most popular vegetables here and there is a high demand.”

In another region of Sudan, the River Nile State, the UN and the EU support communities with water networks providing clean water for drinking, doing laundry, bathing and gardening. The first time the water started fl owing through the pipes in the dry, remote village of Ashkoot, all that could be heard was the sound of “zaghrouta”, the celebratory ululation of joy that is particular to the region. “We were so happy that day” says Fatma Al Hassan. “Before we were suffering; we had to carry water from the Nile – it’s a half hour walk that we had to do fi ve times a day, it took a lot of time and effort.”

With access to water, villagers could easily maintain vegetable and flower gardens inside their homes. These days, almost every household in Ashkoot has at least a small garden with basic vegetables such as onions, cucumbers and potatoes flourishing under the sun.

“Before we had to travel to Abu Hamed to buy vegetables twice a week; but now we have all that we need in our own homes, and at no cost. What I say is the truth” says Fatma as she picks some spinach from the garden for the family dinner. “This water has changed our lives.”