Goma: providing clean water and sanitation for displaced people

05 Sep 2023

Access to clean water is a major challenge for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have been surviving for months in makeshift camps located on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Even with MSF's efforts in water treatment and distribution, the population in the camps continues to live with around five liters of water a day. Increased efforts are needed to improve the life of displaced people.

Over the past year, the resurgence of violent fighting between the Congolese army, the M23 and numerous other armed groups has forced over one million people to flee their homes, causing a humanitarian disaster and exacerbating the already critical humanitarian situation in North Kivu.  

The large increase in displaced people living in the camps that have poor hygienic conditions resulted in more than 4,000 cases of cholera being recorded in Goma during the first six months of 2023, compared to just 100 for the same period in 2022.

Despite their proximity to abundant water - Lake Kivu which is 90km long and 50km wide - some displacement camps have no access to a water treatment system. The situation is even more catastrophic in other camps around Goma, such as Kanyaruchinya, where some 100,000 people have taken refuge, with no access to water resources other than the ones distributed by humanitarian actors. 

We distribute 400,000 liters of water every day to Rusayo camp, but it is not enough to meet the minimum humanitarian standard of 15 liters per person per day. We often see children rushing to the trucks filled with water when our tanks are empty. The situation in the camps remains dramatic.

Ottman El Ouartiti
Water and sanitation manager at MSF

The spread of cholera

The consumption of untreated water, coupled with extremely unsanitary conditions, created the perfect environment for the spread of cholera. "I had no choice but to fetch water from the lake every day for my family. We drank it and cooked with it," explains Tulia, who arrived at Elohim displacement site in January after fleeing the fighting in her village in the territory of Masisi. 

"Medical teams were overwhelmed at our cholera treatment center (CTC) in Bulengo, and the response from other actors was insufficient to improve hygiene conditions to curb the contagion of the disease," says Jackson Ngandu, MSF's watsan supervisor in the camp of Bulengo, where the number of daily admissions ranged between 100 - 150 patients between March and April. 

water distribution at Rusayo displaced camp

Water distribution at Rusayo displaced camp, where around 100,000 displaced people live with no access to water treatment and distribution services. MSF teams distribute the water treated at Bulengo water treatment station through water trucking. © MSF/Alexandre Marcou

The water and sanitation project

To improve the hygiene conditions in the camp "we increased our drinking water distribution capacity by installing a water treatment plant and pipeline network to supply clean drinking water to the displacement sites, and we redoubled our efforts to build as many latrines and showers as possible,” explained Ngandu. 

Since the installation of the pump and water treatment system on the shores of Lake Kivu, there is now a production capacity of two million litres of clean drinking water per day. To supply the camp with water, 18 ramps and 126 taps were fitted in the Bulengo displacement camp, which has helped distribute water to a large proportion of residents.

Technician Diane* oversees the maintenance of the water pumps at Bulengo camp.

Technician Diane oversees the maintenance of the water pumps at Bulengo camp water treatment plant. “My work contributes to the medical work, without functional water pumps people in the camps cannot have access to clean water and can get cholera”. © MSF/Alexandre Marcou

Apart from the water flowing directly through the taps in Bulengo, Elohim, and Lushagala, we distribute around 800,000 liters of clean water per day to trucks that come directly to the station to fetch the water. Yet the population in the camps continues to live on just five liters of water a day, even though we have the capacity to treat more water,” says Ngandu. In a context in which the water supply system installed by MSF was set as an emergency response, it is urgent that other humanitarian actors and Congolese authorities do more to improve access to water and hygiene in the camps in Goma, particularly through the construction of more sustainable infrastructures such as piping systems, and the installation of water treatment plants.  

MSF teams also distribute water by trucking in Rusayo, Shabindu, Munigi, and Kanyaruchinya displacement camps. In Rusayo, the recent installation of a third platform capable of distributing up to 200,000 liters of water per day has brought relief to some of the camp's residents. "Our objective is to distribute 600,000 liters of water per day thanks to these three platforms," explains MSF watsan supervisor Nathan Muhindo. North of the city of Goma, MSF teams have also distributed 320 million liters of water in the Kanyaruchinya camp since July 2022, and are currently exploring and drilling in the Munigi camp to plan the installation of a more sustainable water distribution system. 

MSF teams intervene in camps for internally displaced people around Goma, providing free medical care, supplying drinking water, and building latrines and showers to respond to the most urgent needs. MSF has also responded to the cholera and measles epidemics in the camps through medical care and organising vaccination campaigns. In North Kivu, MSF continues to provide free essential medical care in the health zones of Rutshuru, Kibirizi, Bambo, Binza, Mweso, Masisi, and Walikale. 

* Please note the last name of some sources in this article have been omitted to protect the identity of our patients.

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