Photo: Nazeer Al-Khatib, AFP

Climate change, conflict and water scarcity: The story of the Rainmaker Enterprise


Categories: Innovation

This blog is the first in a three part series on conflict, climate change, and water. Throughout the series, we will explore the work of Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge supported innovation, the Rainmaker Enterprise.


The theme of World Water Day this year is water and climate change. Climate change is worsening the impacts of water scarcity worldwide, with vulnerable regions being hardest hit and least equipped to respond. 


Water scarcity is a driving factor of food insecurity, health challenges, inter-communal conflicts and forced migration. The story of the Rainmaker Enterprise, one of the Creating Hope in Conflict: a Humanitarian Grand Challenge supported innovations, emerges from these circumstances and leverages the intimate knowledge of these experiences to build sustainable solutions. For Rainmaker, sustainable solutions to these challenges begin with access to safe water. This blog series will explore the links between climate change, conflict and water scarcity, and highlight the work of the Rainmaker Enterprise in building sustainable water solutions for food security, stability, and climate adaptation. 


Water Scarcity and Forced Migration: James’ Story


Rainmaker’s founder is a former South Sudanese refugee-turned-entrepreneur who is committed to addressing the challenges that forced him to flee his home country. 


James Thuch Madhier, Founder and Executive Director of The Rainmaker Enterprise. Photo: Jean Luc Habimana


James Thuch Madhier was born into the Second Sudanese Civil War. As a boy, he witnessed the 1998 famine, the result of a combination of water scarcity, drought and political factors, hardest hitting in his home region of Bahr-El-Ghazal, which led to the deaths of 70,000 people.

At age 10, James set out in challenging circumstances to create options for those around him. He started a small business providing essential goods to remote communities that had been cut off by blocked transport routes, by bicycle. He would source commodities such as salt and flour and trade them in other communities in need, acting to redistribute critical resources. 


James’ story showcases how, in such severe circumstances, innovation naturally abounds. A lack of reliable water supply halts food production, causes prices to skyrocket and threatens livelihoods. In these circumstances, people are forced to develop mechanisms for coping and survival. However, options remain limited and pressures often combine to push populations over the edge and strip capacity to cope. 


In this case, water scarcity, food insecurity, and vulnerability to local insecurity can force people to flee their homes in search of food, water, and safety. These pressures also contribute to the conditions for the emergence of armed militia groups for the control of scarce resources, compounding forced migration. Young boys are often the most vulnerable for recruitment into these groups. In 2001, James was subject to these pressures as he was recruited for a camp in Rumbek that aimed to demobilize and rehabilitate child soldiers. The program turned out to be a failure, as many children resorted to violence and eventually re-joined militia groups. James managed to return to Tonj. Soon after his return to Tonj, James fled southern Sudan for Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. This mirrors the story of the 4.3 million displaced people from South Sudan today, which includes refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and asylum-seekers. 63 percent of all South Sudanese refugees are children. 


In 2014, James was accepted to study at the University of Toronto through the World University Service of Canada, a refugee scholarship program. 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. 


Water Scarcity and Climate Change in South Sudan, Across Africa

Women gather at the Rainmaker well in Tonj, South Sudan. Photo: Jean Luc Habimana


South Sudan largely faces economic water scarcity, which exists when a population does not have the necessary means to utilize an adequate source of water. In comparison to physical water scarcity, economic water scarcity is about an unequal distribution of resources or a lack of infrastructure to access existing water resources. Thus, insufficient infrastructure is a major reason why Sub-Saharan Africa is more vulnerable to water stress than other regions.


South Sudan achieved independence in July 2011 following its secession from Sudan after decades of deadly civil war. War broke out again in 2013, pushing the country into a humanitarian crisis and leaving water systems neglected or destroyed. Lack of access to water is driving extreme hunger, poverty, protracted conflict and environmental degradation, and is exacerbating gender inequality and increasing the vulnerability of women and girls in accessing and securing services. Climate change is compounding these impacts, with increasingly frequent droughts and flooding entrenching food insecurity, including unprecedented flooding during fall 2019 that impacted up to one million people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. The country is among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change and among the least equipped to respond. 


This parallels the story of climate change across the African continent. Africa 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 Sub-Saharan Africa might only be able to fulfill 13 percent of its total food needs by 2050 if the current rate of change persists. 


Sustainable solutions are urgently required.


Stay tuned for the next edition of this blog series to learn how Rainmaker is responding to these systemic challenges.

  • Zeba Tasci