Boost for water supplies

Virtually every working day, before going to work at the primary education inspectorate in Kinkala, 75km south of the capital, Brazzaville, Alphonse Dianzinga, 52, fetches water from a source half-an-hour’s walk away.

"Drinking water is difficult to find here. It barely exists," Dianzinga told IRIN.

Kinkala is the capital of Pool Department. Between 1998 and 2003, the region was the theatre of a civil war that destroyed the water and electricity networks.

Between 2000 and 2005, Pool’s population increased from 186,481 to 362,358. According to a report published in 2005 by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), barely 6 percent of the population had access to drinking water – and then only on an irregular basis.

A new distribution system, designed to supply 10,000 people, has been built in Kinkala, and once water flows through it – after a nearby main road is completed - that proportion is expected to rise, but only to 8 percent, according to humanitarian workers.

Diarrhoea due to the lack of clean water, malnutrition and lack of food were the most common scourges in Pool, according to the OCHA report.

"In Pool, security has improved considerably over the past few years. But needs in terms of drinking water and sanitation are evident," Lai-Ling Lee, head of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in Congo, told IRIN.

"We continue to suffer from a lack of water. Our children are also prone to skin diseases because water quality in the homes is poor," Fructueux Babela, head of Kinkala health centre, explained.

Water scarcity countrywide

The scarcity of drinking water not only affects Pool, but all other departments in Congo.

In Gamboma, 325km north of Brazzaville, tap water is available only on one day in four.

"We do not get a service every day. When there is water, we have it for four hours maximum," Narcisse Mbouala said.

"A 25-litre container costs 50 CFA francs [20 US cents]. In times of great penury, this price is simply doubled," he added. "When there is no water, everyone goes to the river. We often get cases of children drowning."

Despite its abundant water resources, Congo is one of the worst countries in Africa in terms of the availability of drinking water, according to government figures.

Coverage in rural areas is 11 percent, against 52 percent in urban and semi-urban areas. Real drinking water needs in Brazzaville are 6,000 cubic metres an hour.

"We produce 3,000 cubic metres an hour for Brazzaville. Production is sometimes short of this, and not nearly enough to meet expectations," said Modeste Essami, chief technical director of the National Water Distribution Society (SNDE).

According to the African Ministers’ Conference on Water (AMCOW), more than 300 million people do not have access to drinking water in Africa, and more than 313 million lack access to adequate sanitation.

The African Development Bank (ADB) says barely 4 percent of water resources are exploited in Africa, whereas in developed countries the figure is 70-90 percent.

Initiatives

Given the growing population and with it the demand for water, the government has taken initiatives to improve the service.

Congolese deputies have approved a draft law aimed at setting up a National Agency for Rural Water Development, designed to increase the number of water sources countrywide.

Backed by a Chinese organisation, Congo is preparing to build a second water works in Brazzaville, with a capacity of 10,000 cubic metres per hour.

Scheduled for completion in 2011, the project is also designed to revamp existing installations at an overall cost of about $212 million, according to the Ministry of Energy and Water Engineering.

"We hope to be able to provide 90 percent of Brazzaville’s water by 2010," said Bruno Itoua, the Minister of Energy and Water Engineering.

The government’s objective is to achieve equilibrium for water in terms of supply and demand by 2011.

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