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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Water is plentiful but not safe enough for children in DR Congo

UNICEF Image: DR Congo, Water, environment and sanitation
© UNICEF video
A young girl fetches water home to her family in DR Congo, where more than half of the population still lacks access to safe water sources.

By Sarah Crowe

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No. 5: A Report Card on Water and Sanitation’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focused on achieving the 2015 targets set by Millennium Development Goal 7 – to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, 25 September 2006 – The mighty Congo and hundreds of lesser rivers crisscross the lush countryside here, providing plentiful water, but the legacies of a decade-long war abound.

Camps for displaced people are breeding grounds for disease, and cities are unable to provide basic services for all those who have fled the fighting. One in five children in DR Congo dies before reaching five years of age. Diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases account for 1 in 10 of these child deaths.

Indeed, less than half of the Congolese population has access to safe drinking water. At this rate, the country will not meet safe water and sanitation targets under Millennium Development Goal 7.

But with the first democratic elections in four decades and the promise of peace, there is fresh emphasis on improving the situation.

UNICEF Image: DR Congo, Water, environment and sanitation
© UNICEF video
Mothers and children draw safe water from a gravity pump that requires little maintenance. UNICEF is providing more such pumps in rural areas of DR Congo.

Improving access

UNICEF has made water and sanitation a priority in its humanitarian action plan for DR Congo, which includes rehabilitating water reservoirs and sinking boreholes to improve access. And the organization is advocating for hygiene education in the curriculum and adequate sanitation facilities in schools – to ensure that teenage girls, in particular, do not drop out for want of a decent latrine.

UNICEF and its partners also have introduced innovative solutions such as a gravity-based system that pumps out safe water out and irrigates fields at the same time.

Yet all too often, people pass even the simplest water pumps and walk on to an unsafe water source nearby. To pay for maintenance, some pumps cost villagers a monthly fee equivalent to the price of a soft drink, and some people say they are unable or unwilling to pay.

Some progress, more needed

“Money is a factor, but there is also the fact that sometimes you have to wait two hours before you can get water from there,” said one local villager, referring to a safe water source.

These problems point to the need for greater awareness of – and investment in – safe water and sanitation in DR Congo.

The good news is that despite challenges of war and poverty, the country has made some progress in recent years. The proportion of the population with access to adequate sanitation increased from 16 per cent in 1990 to 30 per cent in 2004, while access to safe water rose from 43 per cent to 46 per cent.

But much more progress is needed to overcome the legacy of conflict and prevent thousands of needless child deaths in the years to come.





UNICEF correspondent David McKenzie reports on innovative solutions to improve access to safe water in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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