Monday, September 10, 2012

DR Congo. The water of life

All Africa reports 

                                                                              Photo Virunga National Park

Congo-Kinshasa: Water in DRC More Often Cause of Death Than Source of Life


Mbuji Mayi, DR Congo — Despite the desperate lack of access to water for domestic use in Mwene Ditu, in the central Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné Ilunga spent a good part of July blocking up residents' wells.
"They've dug them in old cemeteries, in newly-demarcated lots, next to toilets," said Ilunga, head of the Water Resources Research Department in the city, the second largest in DRC's Kasaï-Orientale province.
Just ten percent of Mwene Ditu's 600,000 residents are connected to the water supply network - and even for these lucky few, water flows through the taps only on Monday and Friday.

This relates to my earlier blog on food in the DR Congo although it seems odd that a net work can only operate on two days a week.
Vianney Muadi, a mother of two in the city's Musadi neighbourhood, said she stores as much water as possible when it runs. "Sometimes, we go whole weeks without access," she told IPS.
"But drinking water must not be left open to the air," said Ilunga. He wants to see the network rehabilitated and extended into outlying neighbourhoods, but the public water utility, REGIDESO, is facing severe challenges across the province.
Few of the 3.3 million residents of the provincial capital, Mbuji Mayi, are served by the city's aging pipe network.
"Our network only reaches 3,000 clients, and basically all of them are in Mbuji Mayi," admitted Jean-Pierre Mbambu, head of the REGIDESO's water works in the city.

3.3 million population and only 3 thousand people are connected that to me suggests that local governance is hopeless but Emmanuel shows what can be achieved  if you are smart.
Pipes are frequently damaged by uncontrolled runoff from rainwater. And even when these breaches are repaired, the utility is often unable to pump water, due to power outages. The provincial administration has tried to help with diesel to power generators, but this is a costly option - especially with REGIDESO struggling with funding problems linked to bankrupt customers.
The many people who are not connected to the grid have to fend for themselves. Dozens of boreholes have been drilled, particularly in Mwene Ditu, and in other parts of Kasaï-Orientale province in the east of the country.
People have also turned to rivers and springs near various towns for water.
"But these supply points are badly looked after and even less well protected," said Placide Mukena Kabongo, head of the National Rural Water Department (SNHR) in Ngandanjika, some 90 kilometres southeast of Mbuji Mayi. He said his staff members were doing their best to explain to people how to prevent contamination of their water sources.

Education is essential but so is money which begs the question of where is the money going in DR Congo ? 

In early 2008, the Government of the D.R.C. concluded a U.S. $9.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure agreement with the Chinese Government.

IMF Board of Directors approved on December 11, 2009, a new, 3-year Extended Credit Facility (ECF) program. 

Paris Club creditors, including the United States, agreed in February 2010 to resume interim debt relief for the D.R.C. 

On July 1, 2010, the D.R.C. reached the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) completion point following a determination by the IMF and World Bank boards that the D.R.C. had successfully implemented the policy measures (“triggers”) under the program. Under HIPC, the IMF and World Bank forgave $12.3 billion on Congolese sovereign debt

Even the clowns at the ICGLR manage to put together a paltry  $4 million USD for humanitarian relief an effort that might have been better if hadn't happened at all.

"SNHR dug 578 wells and constructed 480 water points in eight of the 16 territories that make up the province," Mukena told IPS, adding that these waterworks dated back to colonial times though they were rehabilitated by the SNHR after independence.
Many other shallow wells have been dug by unemployed youth trying to earn a living. "But they're doing this without respecting standards, making the quality of the water doubtful," said Kankonde. He also complained about the use of unclean buckets to draw water and the absence of drainage to keep dirty water from pooling around the wells.
"We took a dead toad out of our well one day last year," Adjany Tshimbombo told IPS. Since then, Tshimbombo, a student at the University of Mbuji Mayi, won't drink the water without boiling it first.

Droughts happen in the Congo but not often water harvesting should be an option and it is relatively cheap. Rehabilitating a pre colonial network is a great goal but it won't work in the short term.
The unsurprising consequence has been increasing rates of waterborne disease, according to provincial medical authorities.
Dr. Musole Kankonde, head of hygiene at the provincial health department, told IPS that diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, bilharzia, and typhoid fever are affecting increasing numbers of people, striking children and adults alike, in both rural and urban areas.
"In just the first half of 2012, we recorded more than 79,000 cases of diarrhoea and dysentery, with 29 deaths," said Jean-Pierre Katende Nsumba, the doctor in charge of disease control in the province.

I am surprised it was only 29 deaths. That tells me that Dr. Kankonde is doing his job but he is an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when he should be a fence at the top. 
Kankonde told IPS that his hands were tied when it comes to addressing the problem. "I can't forbid people to drink water from wells or springs. All I can ask is that they maintain wells carefully and treat their drinking water to avoid falling ill," he said.
His colleague Nsumba said people in the province are generally unable to afford water purification tablets. "I advise that all drinking water - whether it comes from REGIDESO, rivers, springs or wells - be boiled before use to prevent disease," he said.

The world gives billions in aid, one way or another to the DR Congo but I bet Dr. Kankonde never sees any of it. Emmanuel at Virunga National Park raises  money through social media and works miracles 

" This is Naris.  He’s our construction engineer, who’s been working on a water project for the community around Rumangabo for the past three months.

Today he finally completed the project which is now delivering about 40,000 litres of water a day over five kilometres to people’s homes.  On three occasions this week he came under intense fire as he carried out his work several kilometres from the relative safety of the park headquarters.  He was advised to stay at the headquarters, but insisted on completing the work and switching on the water supply to Rumangabo.   The project has been an incredible struggle but seeing the water arrive in the village has made him a happy man."

There are Dr Kankonde's, Emmanuel's and Naris's all over the DR Congo. When governments have failed as badly as the DR Congo Government has failed we need to find these people. Help them. They will get the job done.

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