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Water crisis hits Mbuji-Mayi

Refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo collect water at the Makpandu refugee camp in Southern Sudan's Western Equatoria region, in this May 2009 photograph. The refugees fled attacks from the LRA Peter Martell/IRIN
Hundreds of thousands of residents of Mbuji-Mayi, central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are caught up in a water crisis since a landslide damaged the town’s water supply in March.

Some of the town’s three million residents now walk more than 20km daily in search of water, with reports that a water vendor died recently after a lorry ran over him as he ferried water for sale in Mbuji-Mayi.

“Lack of water in Mbuji-Mayi has been dire for several weeks now; at the moment people are obliged to walk over 20km to fetch water for domestic use from small rivers around the town,” Theodore Thiyekele, a Catholic priest, told IRIN. “Others are buying drinking water from young men who fetch it from sources far away from the town.”

He said the water-sellers used bicycles to ferry the drums full of water and were often at risk of road accidents.

Thiyekele said the water shortage had pushed up prices, with many residents struggling to raise the 500 francs (US$0.50) water vendors were now demanding for a 20-litre jerry can of water. Most of Congo’s population lives on less than $2 daily.

Call for patience

Innocent Kamondji, the provincial director of the Water Board Supplier, known as REGIDESO, has urged patience as more time was needed to fix the main pipes that channel water to the town.

Kamondji said: “Water supply to Mbuji-Mayi Town was affected by a landslide on 23 March... We are working hard to replace the broken pipes, especially [now] that the provincial government has released some funds to restore the water [supply] in Mbuji-Mayi town.”

He said the reconnection of the town’s water was not only dependent on the water supply board but also on the state roads company, which is supposed to help with grading part of the land hit by the landslide.

Photo: IRIN
Kasai-Orientale Provincial authority has released $31,000.

Marcel Ndikayi Mande, Kasai-Oriental Minister of Public Works, told IRIN that part of the funds would be allotted to the water board to acquire new and bigger pipes and an engine that would be used to pump water.

Mande added that these were only temporary measures until a programme funded by the African Development Bank to upgrade the town’s water supply system was up and running.

“We are waiting to start the work of replacing [the] old water supply in the coming months,” Mande said. “It will consist of putting new pipes of 1,000m3 replacing old ones of 500m3. At the moment there are invitations to tender that have been published as the first step for the whole programme.”

Mbuji-Mayi’s water supply network was set up years ago when the town had an estimated 500,000 inhabitants, against three million now.

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