BRAZZAVILLE, May 17, 2017 - There was a time when fear was the most common feeling among the residents of Ngaliema, when a rumbling sky would portend torrential rain. These downpours would erode the land and flood the neighborhood, even washing away dwellings, before flowing into the M’filou River.
Martine Kifoula recalls that time: “There used to be houses all around here,” she explains, gesturing animatedly, “but they were all swept away by erosion.”
Beside her is Ismaël Batamio, another resident, who corroborates this memory: “We used to lose sleep! We had to build our own barriers, stacking sandbags around plots and houses to protect them. It was really difficult!”
But all that is in the past.
Ismaël, a tailor, and Martine Kifoula, a businesswoman, are both members of the Association des riverains de l’érosion de l’école Joseph Ngaliema (AREJNG), a residents’ association for erosion control. This association is based in Massina, a neighborhood in Mfilou in the seventh district of Brazzaville.
Ismaël is president of the association, while Martine is the secretary tasked with registering new members. The association was formed in 2012, following the unveiling of the erosion protection structure, which was constructed under the Water, Electricity, and Urban Development Project (PEEDU), and cofinanced by the Government and the World Bank.
The association’s goal is simple: maintain the structure that protects their homes and neighborhood. “It’s our pride and joy,” explains Ismael, adding that “the municipality has built lots of structures in many neighborhoods but they are often neglected by the residents, who are nonetheless the primary beneficiaries. We in Mfilou have taken matters into our own hands. The government and the World Bank have invested a lot of money in this structure that protects us from the effects of bad weather, so we can ill-afford to neglect it.”
Since its establishment, the association’s officers have endeavored to raise awareness of the need to preserve this structure among the residents, particularly the youth of the Massina neighborhood and Joseph Ngaliéma primary school, all former frequent victims of erosion. The greatest risk was that the impoverished residents in this working class neighborhood would be tempted to take the construction materials, such as the gabion stones and wire mesh, to build their own homes.
However, in the five years since its construction “not a single stone has been stolen and the wire mesh is intact,” Ismaël notes with satisfaction. The association has some 30 members, most of whom live along the main sewer line in the Ngaliema area.
Before heading to their respective professional activities, they take turns twice a week for one hour early in the morning to inspect the structure and remove any weeds. The PEEDU project distributed work uniforms and plowing tools to the association at the time of its formation. “Sometimes, it’s not just the association’s members who come to work but the entire neighborhood—the men, women, children, and the elderly—that comes together to clean up because they all understand the importance of what we are doing,” says Ismaël.
For Iverlan Loumouamou, a young brick and tile layer, it is important to set a good example for other young people in the neighborhood by taking part in the association’s maintenance and clean-up activities. However, Verde Nguimbi, a 26-year-old mother living in the area around the main sewer line, is motivated by something completely different. “I have a daughter who is just a few months old, and I want this structure to be around for as long as possible so that she can grow up and live in safety in this neighborhood,” she explains.
Now, Ngaliema’s residents no longer lose peace of mind or sleep over rumblings from the sky and the threat of rain.
The structure to protect erosion-prone sites was constructed with support from the Water, Electricity, and Urban Development Project (PEEDU) at a cost of CFAF 794.8 million (approximately US$1.3 million), and is one of the most important structures built to date under this project.
Completed in June 2012, this 11-month long undertaking involved 8,562 permanent and seasonal workers and helped secure the homes of 40,000 residents, as well as the primary school’s buildings. This primary school is the neighborhood’s only public school.
The implementation of the PEEDU project began in October 2010 and is being financed to the tune of US$275.5 million, of which US$190 million is being provided by the Congolese government and US$85.5 million by the World Bank. The project seeks to increase sustainable access to basic infrastructure services, safe drinking water, and electricity for the residents of the targeted areas in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.
It also facilitated the construction of a new 230 kilometer-long water supply network, and the connection of 27,600 users to the drinking water network in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, with the installation of water consumption meters.
In addition, 32 kilometers of urban roads were constructed and a 6,000 m2 area was protected against erosion. The project is slated to close in December 2019.