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FEATURE STORYNovember 15, 2023

Supporting drinking water access, a key to progress in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Kinshasa: Investing to ensure access to safe and affordable drinking for all

"Drinking water is a rare commodity here. We struggle with boreholes (a deep, narrow hole for water extraction), and sometimes the boreholes in question break down, and we go a bit further," explains JR Mauwa who hopes to gain a consistent supply of water and be a project beneficiary.

This sheds a light on the daily challenges faced by the residents of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Such lack of water creates a hygiene problem that has a significant impact on the living conditions in the city. The lack of running water is also a real physical constraint. The time spent fetching and transporting water is considerable, depriving the people of Kinshasa of another essential resource: time. This time cannot be devoted to work, domestic chores, or training, and it disproportionately affects women. According to UNICEF, women and girls spend 200 million hours globally collecting water every year, taking away valuable time that they could spend on education and work, directly affecting the building of a country’s human capital.

Water is a vital resource, so crucial that we often take it for granted when it's readily available. However, when it is lacking, every daily action becomes more difficult for those who are deprived of it. Water is an indispensable resource for quenching our thirst, maintaining personal hygiene, cooking, and preserving good health. Regrettably, at a global level, having access to safe drinking water is a privilege, not a reality for everyone.

While access to water is progressing in many parts of the world, the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is deteriorating, with an increasing number of people deprived of access. Among the countries affected by this reality, the DRC stands out sadly, with one of the lowest rates of access to drinking water and adequate sanitation in SSA. According to UNICEF, only 52% of the population has access to an improved water source and 29% to improved sanitation facilities. The paradox lies in the country's abundance of water resources: the DRC possesses more than 50% of the African continent's water reserves. Despite this natural wealth, drinking water remains a rare commodity for the Congolese population, mainly due to the lack of infrastructure.

Kinshasa's Multisectoral Development and Urban Resilience Project, named Kin Elenda, is funded by the International Development Association (IDA), part of the World Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries. The $500 million project started in 2021, aiming to strengthen urban management and improve basic urban services, such as water, sanitation, waste management and energy, through climate change-resistant infrastructure.

The primary investments of the project encompass the construction of the Binza Ozone water treatment complex, the revitalization of the current Ndjili water treatment plant, and the upgrade and expansion of the water storage and distribution network.

The Binza Ozone water treatment complex, designed to handle 110,000 m3/d, was inaugurated on February 23, 2020, at an approximate cost of $60 million. Since its inauguration, it has significantly enhanced services for nearly a million people, including neighborhoods that lacked access to water for over a decade. The project is presently expanding the distribution network downstream of the ozone plant. Once the construction on the ozone treatment complex is finalized (expected completion by June 2026), this extension will extend services to an additional 2 million individuals.

The Kin Elenda Project will be even more crucial in the metropolis of Kinshasa, which is home to a population of over 14 million people, with an annual growth rate of 5.1%, and could become Africa's most populous city by 2030. This rapid urban growth poses two major challenges. On the one hand, there is the challenge of making cities more livable and inclusive by meeting the high demand for social services, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and other basic services, while at the same time tackling significant urban poverty. On the other hand, it is essential to make cities more productive by encouraging a greater concentration of economic activity. In this fast-growing megalopolis, the drinking water supply infrastructure is struggling to keep pace. As a result, many people have difficulty gaining continuous access to drinking water.

"I can just turn on the tap and drink the water now, no need for boiling anymore. Gideon, how about a glass of water? It's perfectly safe to drink. Thanks to God, we're blessed with this," proudly states a resident of Kinshasa, who benefited from the World Bank-supported Kinshasa Multisectoral Development and Urban Resilience Project.

Access to drinking water is much more than a mere commodity, it is a fundamental necessity that shapes the daily lives of millions of people around the world. The poignant statements of the people of Kinshasa highlight the challenges and suffering faced by those who lack access to this vital resource. Investing in such infrastructure is an essential step towards a world where every individual can draw water directly from the tap and drink it safely. It's an investment in health, education, gender equality, and sustainable development that deserves continued support and commitment on a global scale.


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