As the second largest country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to around 95 million people as of 2021. Characterized by political instability and conflict, the land is rich in natural resources, but its people are amongst the poorest in the world. As most Congolese people make less than $2 a day, having access to safe bottled water is considered an “impossible luxury.” This highlights the need for efforts that aim to improve water quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Water Quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Only 52% of the DRC has access to basic water and even less (29%) have access to sanitation. Despite being home to over 50% of Africa’s water reserves, 33 million people across the country’s most rural areas still can’t access safe water. Moreover, 43% of under-5-year-old children in the DRC are facing chronic malnutrition.
- Reasons for low water quality in the DRC include conflict, displaced citizens, poor management, economic instability and governance constraints. For example, when displaced people arrive in host communities where there is already extremely restricted access to drinking water, it leaves further strains on the available resources. Also, the issue of bacterial contamination is a direct consequence of open defecation. Other causes include substandard sanitation systems and polluted surface water. In the DRC, there is no national monitoring of water systems and a restricted understanding of the issues caused by poor water quality. Economic progress has stagnated, inhibiting the government’s ability to invest in infrastructure maintenance. A hostile political environment has similarly prevented social accountability and the development of water and sanitation services, according to Global Waters.
- Poor water quality in the DRC has facilitated the spread of waterborne diseases. The lack of access to sanitary facilities and safe water makes it generally impossible to prevent most waterborne diseases. Conflicts also encourage population movements, thereby further worsening the disease problem. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) study found that since the war, most Congolese have not died because of violence but because of waterborne diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and malnutrition, according to The Water Project.
- Climate Change has had an impact on the water quality in the DRC. As one of “the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change,” according to USAID, the DRC doesn’t have adequate equipment to deal with the consequences. For example, weather patterns are variable, and when the rainfall becomes more intense, the region becomes more susceptible to extreme floods, landslides and other disasters that affect the availability and quality of surface water. At the other end of the scale, extreme drought and longer dry seasons could become more common as climate change worsens. This could exacerbate poverty and create food insecurity as well as political instability, USAID reports.
- The DRC is particularly rich in natural resources and has vast agricultural land as well as “immense biodiversity.” Home to the second largest rainforest after the Amazon, the DRC is heavily dependent on its agriculture. But in 2020, the country lost 1.3 million hectares of forests, harmfully impacting the environment and reducing biodiversity across the region. Unfortunately, this threatened the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on agriculture.
- In 1998, the DRC joined “Africa’s First World War, in a conflict between seven African nations,” according to The Water Project. The reasons for this war included struggles over minerals, water and food. Not only was it a determining factor at the beginning of the war, but following the conflict, access to water became increasingly restricted. This was a consequence of the collapse of the DRC’s infrastructure during the fighting.
UNICEF, USAID and Join for Water are among the organizations doing great work to alleviate the consequences of water quality in the DRC. UNICEF is improving access to safe drinking water supplies as well as adequate sanitation facilities in schools and communities. It also created the national program, “Healthy School and Village” in the DRC which aims to stop the spread of waterborne diseases through safe water and hygiene education, according to its website.
According to its website, Join for Water is active across three provinces in the DRC: Ituri, Tshopo and Kwilu. Its focus is on rebuilding and maintaining drinking water infrastructure by working with local organizations to advocate for resource and river protection. It also works to protect agroforestry with farmers and ensure students receive environmental education in school.
USAID, alongside the U.S. government, has provided millions of liters of safe drinking water to the Congolese people, helping over 1 million people gain access to safe water and sanitation facilities, according to Global Waters.
Efforts to improve water quality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are making a difference in the lives of millions of people. Organizations like UNICEF, Join for Water and USAID are working tirelessly to provide access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools and communities. These initiatives not only combat waterborne diseases but also empower communities and promote environmental education. With ongoing support and collaboration, the DRC is moving closer to ensuring a brighter future where safe water becomes a reality for all its people.