DENVER, Colorado — The Democratic Republic of Congo is the second-largest African country with more than 50% of the continent’s freshwater reserves. However, access to clean water in the Democratic Republic of Congo is low due to the deteriorating infrastructure. Currently, only 52% of the Congolese population can access basic water and 29% has access to sanitation. The majority of these percentages are from those who live in urban areas.
The government has yet to address the water distribution in the country. Hundreds of Congolese communities and villages cannot access drinking water from the tap. This leaves many having to wake up as early as 4 a.m. just to beat the large crowds at water points.
The state utility water continues to pump water to needy areas through the rusty pipes of the water pumping system. Unfortunately, these pipes do not reach throughout the country. For instance, in Ewo, a town in the northwestern district of the country, locals are only able to get water from streams and ponds. Many are under the assumption that they are drinking spring water from the streams they collect, but in actuality, many of these ponds and streams contain waste, bacteria and chemicals. This essentially leaves them with no choice but to consume unsafe water.
Affecting Women and Girls
The water crisis is a pressing matter, especially for women and girls. In Congolese cultures, “women and girls are responsible for household chores, caring for the family and water collection.”
Women and young girls have to spend hours at a time hand-digging wells many miles away from home. Digging and searching for clean water in the Democratic Republic of Congo lessens the capacity for Congolese women and girls to get an education or earn an income.
USAID Providing Support
Since 2008, USAID has made considerable investments in water and sanitation programming. USAID supports the government in creating and strengthening systems required to reach the country’s water and sanitation targets. Its plan for the country contributes to the Global Water Strategy (GWS) objectives, improving sanitation and water service provision, governance of the water sector and reinforcing principles of gender empowerment.
From 2016 to 2022, USAID created the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Partnerships and Learning for Sustainability Project (WASHPaLS). The project identified and shared the best practices to “achieve sustainability, scale and impact of evidence-based environmental health and WASH interventions.” USAID implemented the project through Tetra Tech, which has 30 years of successful WASH sector programming. According to USAID, “Tetra Tech provided technical assistance in the areas of rural water supply, sustainability assessments, the sanitation value chain including fecal sludge management and environmental compliance.”
UNICEF also created initiatives to bring clean water to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It created a national program “Healthy School and Village” to prevent “diarrheal diseases and other waterborne diseases through the provision of improved water, hygiene and sanitation services in schools, villages and health centers,” according to its website.
For instance, UNICEF is working to provide safe water for students and residents of Walungu一a territory of South Kivu in the DRC. In 2021, UNICEF connected Chirhavanyi Primary School to a supply of clean drinking water as well as installing hygienic toilets. Before this initiative, students were not able to wash their hands until they arrived back home. The implementation of safe water and toilets allowed for the school to feel “cleaner” according to the students.
Dr. Sha’s Well Building Effort
Humanitarian and Medical Doctor Zhi Gang Sha is working to bring clean water to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dr. Sha is working through his non-profit Love Peace Harmony Foundation paired with guidance from Queen Diambi Kabatusuila.
The Love Peace Harmony Foundation began its journey in 2006 in San Francisco and registered as a nonprofit in 2008. The non-profit has a mission to “serve all humanity and to make others happier and healthier.” In Dr. Sha and Queen Diambi’s work, they lead initiatives to install water filtration systems and wells in numerous Congolese communities.
The reason Dr. Sha chose to focus on giving clean water to the Democratic Republic because of “the significant conflict and instability the country has experienced over the years.” To Dr. Sha, some individuals and organizations are drawn to the country due to the significant need for assistance or the motivation to help those who are suffering.
Creating New Infrastructure
According to AP News, to expand access to more than 60,000 at-risk villagers, Dr. Sha and Queen Diambi created new infrastructure. To do this, they used heavy machinery to drill holes to install pipes and pumps that’ll protect communities from catching waterborne diseases and malnutrition. “Clean water crisis devastated rural communities in the country and we are humbly doing what we can to help them heal themselves,” said Dr. Sha.
“For hundreds of years, one of the most challenging problems my people continuously face is access to clean drinking water,” said Queen Diambi Kabatusuila to AP News. Seeing villagers experience this, it motivated Queen Diambi to get involved in bringing clean water in to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Love Peace Harmony Foundation focuses on transforming the lives of those who are suffering. According to Dr. Sha, the initiative to provide clean water is transforming lives by not only decreasing the incidence of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever and diarrhea. This, in turn, can improve the overall health of individuals and communities and reduce the burden on healthcare systems.”
These wells help women and girls, lessening the experiences of gender-based violence when they are traveling long distances to collect water. On top of that, they will have “more time to pursue education and income-generating activities,” says Dr. Sha.
Dr. Sha mentions that giving access to clean water in the Democratic Republic of Congo creates numerous pathways for education and economic mobility.
First, with access to clean water, children in the DRC are less likely to suffer from waterborne illnesses and can attend school regularly. By attending school on a regular basis, they become more likely to succeed academically. This also increases economic opportunities in the future. Next, women and girls would also be given more time to attend school or engage in income-generating activities.
The efforts of Dr. Sha and Queen Diambi implemented in the DRC, have brought safe water to the thousands of those impacted, especially in rural areas. While more than 60,000 villagers are provided clean water in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a possibility that these numbers will continue to rise as the need to search and hand-dig for water is diminishing.
– Brianna Green