Poor Water Infrastructure and Covid-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo
By Frank Odhiambo
According to UNEP, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s water sources account for more than half of Africa’s surface water but by 2018 only 26% of its population had access to safe water. Years of political instability have left the water infrastructure in the DRC neglected. Consequently, affluent Congolese can buy imported water at $1 per litre, but for the millions earning less than $2 a day, this is unlikely.
Since access to water is a key element to ensuring the health of a country, poor water infrastructure has compromised the DRC’s health sector. Nonetheless, it has also provided a chance for sustainable water infrastructure development.
Health and poor water access
Evidently, a lack of access to water in the DRC makes the country extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. If healthcare workers are unable to feel safe in their own facilities, anyone who contracts COVID-19 can hardly be guaranteed healthcare.
In the DRC, 28% of all health facilities have functional water infrastructure. The same facilities are supposed to cater for a country that once had a COVID-19 positivity rate of about 20%. This worsens considering the severity of other diseases in the country.
Many Congolese suffer from preventable diseases that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Most of these diseases – cholera, malaria, acute respiratory infections and tuberculosis – spread easily due to poor water and sanitation. The dreaded Ebola virus easily turns into endemics due to poor water infrastructure in the DRC.
Using COVID-19 to improve water infrastructure
Fortunately, some organisations have used the pandemic to sustainably ensure water security in the DRC. The International Committee of the Red Cross has started funding the construction of water infrastructure in the capital, Kinshasa, where urban water shortages are common. Consequently, over 20,000 people in the urban area have access to proper water and sanitation facilities during the pandemic.
The World Bank has spearheaded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services as a health response to COVID-19 in the DRC. Alongside other partners and the DRC government, this response focusses on providing WASH services in health facilities. During any kind of health emergency, ensuring hospitals and healthcare workers have safe water sources is key.
UNICEF has also been instrumental in providing water and sanitation services in the DRC. During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF was able to provide water, sanitation and hygiene services to over 3 million people. While having water infrastructure is important, those facing water scarcity should know the benefits of clean water access.
While a clear analysis of the water crisis in the DRC reveals a history of political turmoil, sustainably developing water projects in the country will reduce the burden of a nation in poverty. The pandemic may have found the DRC in a water crisis but it also presents an opportunity for sustainable water infrastructure development.
Frank Odhiambo is an International Relations student at the United States International University - Africa, concentrating in Peace and Conflict studies and developing keen interests on the environments of the developing world. Frank hopes to pursue a career in climate change adaptation and disaster risk management.