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Democratic Republic of the Congo: supplying Goma with water

15-06-2009 Interview

With ICRC support, the capital of North Kivu has, for the first time in its history, adopted a plan to develop a drinking-water network for all residents. If it is implemented, it will ensure over 740,000 people access to a sufficient supply of clean water. Marc Suchet, head of the ICRC's water and sanitation programme in North Kivu, explains why a comprehensive long-term plan is better than a series of emergency projects.

   
   
 
Marc Suchet, head of the ICRC's water and sanitation programme in North Kivu.    

     What problems do Goma's residents face in terms of water access?

The current situation is alarming: more than half of Goma's residents don't have access to drinking water. They make do by getting it directly from the lake or buying it from water sellers who charge ten times more than Regideso, the public utility responsible for supplying water in the country's urban areas. There are also humanitarian organizations that distribute water in tanker trucks, but there is never enough.

Water taken directly from the lake or from other waste-contaminated water points can make people sick and lead to the outbreak of epidemics.

    

How and why is the ICRC involved in supplying water in an urban area like Goma?  

   

  ©ICRC / P. Yazdi    
 
Water taken directly from the lake can make people sick and lead to the outbreak of epidemics.    

     

Goma's water-access problems are among the many issues of humanitarian concern arising from the ongoing conflict. Since 1994, thousands of civilians have sought refuge and work in the provincial capital. The city's population has exploded, but the infrastructure has not kept pace. What's more, the existing water-supply network is in a growing state of disrepair since proper maintenance is hampered by the disorder that result from the lack of security and economic stability.

The ICRC has been working with Regideso on water-supply projects in Goma since 1997. All told, we have invested more than 850,000 Swiss francs in the effort to improve this situation. The construction in 2007 and 2008 of a pumping station in Kesheyro and two tanks in N'dosho means that more than 250,000 residents now have regular access to drinking water.

Like other organizations, we have also engaged in a large number of emergency projects. But in a city like Goma, whose population exceeds 600,000, a long-term solution is needed to break the pattern of makeshift responses to emergencies.

As part of this long-term approach, the ICRC has initiated a water-supply plan for the whole city. Can you describe it?  

We began by studying the state of the existing network. Our engineers gathered information on the pumping stations and on more than 75 km of water pipes in order to create a computerized simulation of the network.

We then studied various ways of designing new reservoirs, pumping stations and pipelines, taking into account the needs and estimated growth rate of the population.

Our work culminated in a virtual simulation of a system to supply all Goma's residents with drinking water in 2015, assuming annual population growth of 3%.

How can the plan be put to use right now?

The plan will be useful for Regideso, but also for humanitarian organizations like the ICRC that want to develop water projects in Goma. If these organizations carry out narrow projects that do not fit into a city-wide solution, such as supplying one single neighbourhood with water, the result will be a series of haphazard initiatives. The projects will work for a few years, but then, as the population grows, the city expands and other neighbourhoods need to be supplied with water, the work will have to be done all over again. This will lead to further spending.

In the final analysis, a large number of ill-designed projects will end up being much more expensive. It would be better to invest now towards supplying the whole city, even if the initial cost seems high.

What will be needed to turn this plan into reality?  

Regideso will have to find the necessary funding for this plan, whose cost is estimated at more than 13 million dollars. That may seem high, but in fact it amounts to less than 20 dollars per resident. Given its importance for the people of Goma, we are very optimistic about the future of this project.