Elusive commodity: Documenting the pain communities in Goma, DR Congo go through to take water home (Photo Story)

Guerchom Ndebo, October 14, 2021

  • Only 42 percent of DRC’s 81 million population has access to safe water, with most of them living in urban centers, such as the capital Kishansha and Goma city.
  • In this photo story, Guerchom Ndebo documents the woes that residents of the villages surrounding the volcano, including Goma city suburbs, face as they struggle to bring water home for consumption, sanitation, and hygiene services.  

Just like what happened in 2002, when the Mount Nyiragongo in North Kivu province of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) erupted again in May 2021, hundreds of thousands of residents of Goma city were left without clean water, according to the international medical agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Lava from the May 22 eruption destroyed 17 villages, killed at least 32 persons, and left close to half a million people homeless. Also, it melted their water pipes and damaged a 5000m³ reservoir for the northern part of the city.

Without water access, the affected communities were at risk of waterborne diseases.

“More clean water should be urgently provided; cholera is endemic in the area and poses a huge threat to people, including to the host communities,” Magali Roudaut, MSF head of mission in DRC, said days after the eruption.

Some residents of Goma fleeing their homes on the night of the Nyiragongo volcano eruption. The eruption killed at least 32 persons and left close to half a million people homeless.  

As a mitigation measure, the affected communities resorted to fetching water from local lakes, streams, ponds, and rainwater, just like residents of downtown Goma have done for ages.

Unfortunately, these water sources were contaminated by airborne toxicity from the Nyiragongo volcano. This does cause not only waterborne diseases but also acute respiratory infections.

Initially, Goma’s water systems were damaged in 2002 by the eruption of Nyiragongo, which poured rivers of lava into the city, burying entire neighborhoods. Then, with the eruption of May 22, 2021, more than 60% of the population at the foot of the volcano was left without water.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the largest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, almost equivalent to western Europe, is endowed with nearly half of Africa’s water resources according to the UN environment agency UNEP.  

Unfortunately, only 42 percent of the country’s 81 million population has access to safe water, with most of them living in urban centers, such as the capital Kishansha and Goma city.

In North Kivu Province, home to Goma city, 68 percent of households use improved drinking water sources. However, 32 percent still rely on unsafe sources, including surface water and unprotected sources.

In this photo story, Guerchom Ndebo documents the woes that residents of the villages surrounding the volcano, including Goma city suburbs, face as they struggle to bring water home for consumption, sanitation, and hygiene services.  

Jerry cans of different sizes ready to be filled with water at the edge of Lac Vert, west of Goma city in DR Congo. In the Nile basin, most people depend on groundwater and erratic rains as the source of water. With time, communities have adapted various water harvesting and storage tools. 

Bahati and his child stand in the churchyard with jerry cans on their way to fetch water from Rusayo, north of Goma city.  Bahati says it’s never been easy bringing safe water home; they use jerry cans, pots and other utensils

“But we do our best to survive. We teach children to fetch water just as we were taught,” Bahati narrates. 

A person sinks a jerry can into Lac Vert, west of Goma city in DR Congo to fetch water. Compared with other Nile basin countries, DR Congo has considerable groundwater resources. It lies on the Congo hydrogeological artesian aquifer. 

A young boy washes clothes in Lac Vert,  in Goma City, DR Congo. The quality of water in rivers, lakes, springs, and wells in DR Congo is influenced by many natural and human factors, including people who bathe and wash directly from these water bodies. 

A reflection of a youth deeping a jerry can into Lake Vert, west of Goma City in DR Congo, to fetch water 

In the Mugunga district, west of Goma, children climb a hill carrying jerry cans full of water on their backs. Due to the lack of piped water, most people in DR Congo face challenges fetching water from distant rivers, lakes, streams, or shallow wells. This wastes time and puts the lives of children and women entrusted with performing this role at risk from abusers that waylay them. 

From a distance: A woman (First-left) carrying a jerry can full of water strapped to her back passes through volcanic rocks. Taking water back home from water wells, rivers and lakes is one of the challenges that women and children face in DR Congo. Sometimes, it breaks their backs and necks.

A woman in Munigi , Goma, DR Congo looks at the jerry cans locked on a Chukudu – a two-wheeled handmade vehicle for easy transport. In Most African countries, fetching water is a task for women and children.

Youths fetch water in Lake Kivu in DR Congo. Lake Kivu is a source of domestic water for hundreds of thousands of people living close to it. 

Men carry water cans on motorcycles to get to their homes on the shores of Lake Kivu. In DR Congo, lake and river water is widely used for domestic purposes. 

A youth in Goma, DR Congo, drops off a jerry can full of water at home, having walked almost two kilometers from the shallow well where he fetched it.

A lady sits next to jerry cans full of water in her house in the north of the city of Goma, DR Congo. Despite the abundance of surface water in Goma, DR Congo, safe water is scarce in homes. 

A woman fetches water from a homemade tank that helps her conserve water for domestic use in Rusayo, north of Goma. 

A bird’s eye view of the water in a homemade storage tank in Rusayo, north of Goma city. The seemingly dirty water is used for domestic and drinking purposes.  

Water harvested and stored in basins and saucepans in Rusayo, north of the city of Goma. Unfortunately, most residents of Goma lack water storage facilities. This puts their far-fetched water at risk of contamination. 

The water reservoir in the north of Goma city that was covered by the Nyiragongo volcano lava in May 2021. Unfortunately, this left more than 60% of the people at the foot of the volcano without water. Before the eruption, the reservoir supplied water to nearly 60% of the town of Goma. 

Water pipes burnt by  Nyiragongo volcano lava in the north of the city of Goma in May 2021.

A woman sows seeds in her garden at the foot of the Nyiragongo volcano. Volcanoes are accredited for the formation of fertile soil. Combined with the abundant rains in the area, this may translate into high crop yields.  In DR Congo, subsistence farmers depend on rainfed agriculture and surface water resources for their livelihoods.

“Our bodies have now gotten used to the dirty water. We have no option. We try our best to survive,” narrates Nyandu Kifaka, aged 75, as he sits on an empty jerry-can in his compound in Rusayo, north of the city of Goma. The majority of the people living in villages surrounding the Volcano have no access to safe water. They depend on rainwater.

Fifaka says they have no option but to use the available dirty water. 

Sifa, aged 22, observes the lake.  She spends days washing her clothes at the Lac Vert following the lack of water at her home. Across several communities in DR Congo, water from most water bodies is unfit for consumption in the raw form. In such societies, environmental sanitation is poor, resulting in contamination and nutrient enrichment of water bodies.  

The lack of pipe water in homes forces people to wash directly from water bodies; as Sifa narrates, “we don’t have water, that’s why I came here to wash my clothes and those of my family. I have been here since morning.  I will go back  at 3 pm after I’ve finished everything.”

This EverydayNile story was supported by InfoNile with funding from IHE-Delft Global Partnership for Water and Development.