Women Facing Water Crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo

A wettest land in Africa, lacks water to its inhabitants.

Water Crisis – is one of the hugest problems in most countries of Africa, and the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] is not an exception.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is known as one of the wettest lands in Africa. Thanks to its location on the equator, the DRC has an average of 67 inches of rainfall annually [http://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-congo].  To add to that, DRC possesses over half of water reserves of the continent and large drainage basins of water which cover almost the entire country. However, more than half of the Congolese population suffers from water shortages in both rural and urban areas.

In the urban areas for example, only 69% of the population receive water provided by the state water utility, called REGIDESO [http://www.globalissues.org/article/87/the-democratic-republic-of-congoo]. Failure by the latter to initiate effective projects to improve on the water pumping system, leaves a substantive part of the population without access to this indispensable resource. In the rural areas, access to water is difficult for the majority of the population because of the lack of infrastructures for carrying and providing sanitary water to remote area  [http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=13&ReportId=61034]. Therefore the population abandoned to themselves get in water supplies from springs, wells, streams or rusty and decaying water pipes.

So far, substantive efforts to improve on water sanitation have been registered from the Congolese government. According to UNICEF, the population having access to clean water rose from 43% in 1990 to 46% in 2004. In the Katanga province for example the local government recently undertook a project consisting of installing new water piping throughout the city of Lubumbashi. On the other hand, no substantive change has occurred in rural areas of the Katanga province where the population continue to undergo the predicament linked to lack of water, especially women.

People living in rural areas encounter many difficulties to access adequate hygienic water and face severe water scarcity including the Lukuni and Kasokota communities. These two rural communities are situated at about 47 km away from Lubumbashi the economic capital of DRC- and the access to the roads leading to them is bad especially in raining seasons. In Kasokota, women, men and children fetch water from a stream passing by at the bottom of the village, and it is worthy to note that, fetching water is often considered as one of the reproductive tasks assigned to women in our society including Kasokota.

Women set out to fetch water before going to, or after coming back, from the farm according to their personal daily schedule. Women living at the beginning and middle points of the village have to trek for a considerable distance to reach the stream, when compared to those who live at the bottom of the village near the stream. Consequently, fetching water becomes a time-consuming activity, and adding to these women’s daily burden as confirmed by this woman, “I usually fetch water after coming back from the farm, and then I start other daily duties such as cooking, whether I am tired or not I have no choice than to do this because water is indispensible for my domestic chores and entire household”.

Yet, all of the same, water from the stream does not seem to be safe for consumption, due to the reason that the people used to wash clothes, utensils, and even bathe. This same water is also used for drinking, and for other domestic chores as Maman Fidelie, one inhabitant, said; “We all fetch water from that stream for drinking and other domestic chores and nobody cares if it’s safe or not”.

One can foresee a casual breeding ground of water borne diseases, dangerous for the population, especially for women and children who are often the most vulnerable in cases of outbreak diseases. The construction of gravity-based water pumps can be an alternative solution to the eventual water crisis related problems in this community. Women reported that they previously had one water pump, which currently was out of use, and expressed their wish to have about three pumps or more throughout the village for them to obtain clean water.  This alternative will help women avoid long distance trekking to reach water point and enable all the population in these villages to have access to clean water.

On the other hand, Lukuni is granted with one gravity-based water pump which supplies the whole community with safe water for drinking and other use. However the sole pump is unlikely to effectively satisfy everybody’s needs especially in terms of time and distance.  One woman, the sister-in -law to the Village Chief said “It’s difficult for us to manage with one pump because it is not enough for all of us. We spend long hours queuing up to wait for our turn to get water, and those who stay far from it have to trek a long distance carrying heavy load”.

This phenomenon has a repercussion on women’s daily organization and impact on their socio-economic life. Some women reported that they have to wake up earlier in the morning (around 4.30 am instead of 5.00 am), so they could be among the first people to get access to the water pump. These women too stated that they wished to have more water pumps to relieve them from water predicament. All along, women and children face problems of insecurity and other incidents which are risky to their life. In the same line, women are sometimes victims of gender based violence such as verbal and physical assault, sexual harassment and/or even rape on their way for fetching water on long distances. They also face high risks to be attacked by wild animals in the bush such as snakes or be injured in one way or the other. For example one young girl reported that when returning from the pump she slipped and fell carrying a full 20 liters water gallon on her head. Her leg was broken and demanded to be plastered as revealed by the medical doctor’s diagnostic. Such an incident requires not only time from the female family members to take care of the person who has been injured but also financial means to access adequate medical care.

Children are not behind the scenes as far as water scarcity issues are concerned. Kids are the ones who usually help their mothers or senior female family members to fetch water. They often carry loads that are heavier than their weight which is likely to have bad consequences on their body and growth such as back pain (http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/UNEP_DRC_water.pdf).  Also while the women are away to fetch water, the children are left alone back home without safe adult surveillance since men are often involved in outdoor activities.   Therefore, the search of water, which is a vital resource for the family, reveals to be a double-edged activity that infringes constraints to the whole community especially to women and children.

Definitely, water, the indispensable and precious resource remains an asset which is hard to access in DRC especially in rural areas. Despite all the efforts made by the government and external international and national organizations to address the people’s need to have clean and potable water, the challenge is standstill. If a part of the population living in the urban areas is beginning to see the light beam at the bottom of the tunnel in terms of clean water accessibility, the majority in the rural areas are not. One can ponder and wonder, when will those in the oblivion throughout the Congo see this light too?

Linda Kisonto | DR Congo