KINSHASA, February 25, 2010—The year 2009 brought positive changes at REGIDESO, the public water utility of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The company doubled its safe drinking water distribution capacity as a result of work done on its Ndjili plant in Kinshasa thanks to the Emergency Multisectoral Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program (EMRRP), a project financed by the World Bank.
The Ndjili plant is the largest of the four serving DRC’s capital, supplying almost 65 percent of the city’s total distribution of drinking water. Rehabilitation work lasted four years and cost approximately 51 million Euros. The plant has a production capacity of 330,000 cubic meters per day, much higher than those in Ngaliema (85,000), Lukunga (45,000), and Lukaya, where a brand new plant produces 24,000 cubic meters daily.
Satisfaction in Households
For the 8 million inhabitants of Kinshasa, renovations undertaken at REGIDESO come as great relief. Far away from the clatter of plant machinery and the scent of chlorine and other purification chemicals, Annie Mujinga, a local resident, pointed with satisfaction to noticeable improvements in her domestic water supply. “Not too long ago we had to sleep on one ear, listening out with the other ear for water to start flowing from the faucet,” she said. “Then around three in the morning, water would start flowing and we would scramble to alert the neighborhood and fill up as many containers as possible, because we didn’t know when it would flow again.”
Access to drinking water is a top concern in this megalopolis that has to grapple with a steady influx of new residents every year. In response, the Congolese Government made it one of its priorities in the country’s five-pillar program.
“The EMRRP project enabled REGIDESO to not only increase its drinking water production capacity from 220,000 to 330,000 cubic meters per day, but also to restore drinking water service in 22 of the 24 communes in the city of Kinshasa, located in areas serviced by the Ndjili plant,” said Tshama Mavua, the engineer responsible for overseeing REGIDESO projects.
Other areas that will benefit from renovations at the Ndjili plant are the communes of Gombe, Kinshasa, Lingwala, Limete, Kalamu, Kasavubu, Bumbu, Ngiri-Ngiri, Selembao, Kintambo, Bandalungwa, Matete, Lemba, Ngaba, Makala, and Mont-Ngafula, as well as the communes of Masina, Ndjili, and Kimbaseke, where several districts had no safe drinking water at all.
REGIDESO is proud of the results of the upgrade, especially the higher revenue the company expects to derive from increased output. The Ndjili plant can now supply quality water at a much higher capacity, allowing the company to recover its initial yield of 220,000 cubic meters per day, after a dramatic drop to approximately 140,000 cubic meters per day.
Rehabilitation work entailed ensuring a higher output of drinking water, as well as improvements in its quality. This was achieved through the construction of a new spillway in the Ndjili River downstream from an existing dam; the rehabilitation of existing structures; and the upgrade of a third desalting unit. To date, 19,300 meters of large pipelines have been laid, and a new reservoir with a capacity of 2,300 cubic meters was built in Gombele in the district of Righini to complement an older one. This has helped extend safe drinking water delivery to areas as far away as the communes of Ngaba, Mont-Ngafula, the Kinshasa campus and Kindele, in the south of the city. Most of these areas in the south did not exist during the colonial period and were not considered in the original planning of the city. A strategic reserve in Gombele now guarantees reliable drinking water access in the event of a sudden disruption in supply caused by a power outage or damage to the system.
Uncertainties about the Future
The EMRRP project has just been completed to the satisfaction of both the beneficiaries and REGIDESO. Water pressure in the faucets is higher and water flow is constant, whereas in the past, people had to wake up in the middle of the night or in the wee hours of the morning to have a chance at catching safe drinking water.
Despite a total production of 484,000 cubic meters per day, Kinshasa still experiences a significant water shortfall, estimated at 750,000 cubic meters per day. In addition, the 50-year-old water distribution network is plagued by cracks, resulting in leakages here and there along the pipes. A situation that is further aggravated by the clogging of the Ndjili River caused by waste thrown upstream from the catchment area.
These shortcomings can only be remedied by greater financial support from development partners. But the announced closure of the EMRRP is likely to create some anxiety, especially on the part of the Congolese Government, in terms of the sustainability of the progress made. A closure will likely impact the maintenance of existing infrastructure, as well as the ability of the Government to finance future extensions of the water supply system. There is, however, hope on the horizon, according to experts in charge of the project.