Goma: Unsafe water poses an additional threat

Thirty-one bodies have been collected from streets in and around the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma since rebels took it over on 20 November. Ten were government troops (FARDC), the rest, civilians, according to an NGO worker.

The guns may be silent and a sense of calm restored to the city, but its population of around a million – swollen by tens of thousands of newly displaced civilians – now faces other perils.

In the fighting between government troops and the M23 rebels now in control of Goma, a main electricity line was cut, leaving large areas of the city without power or piped water.

“We have more than one million inhabitants and additional IDPs here without water. The only point where they can collect water is the lake,” said Arthur Sarazin, the head of NGO Merlin’s North Kivu operations.

“And the lake [Kivu] water is not safe to drink,” Sarazin added, as a group of young people stripped bare and washed themselves behind him. The water contains cholera bacteria and other waterborne diseases. With little access to sanitation, he says there is an extremely high risk of outbreaks of communicable disease.

Sarazin said he expected the water supply to resume soon.

“Our priority now is preparing for the returning [displaced civilians]”, he said. Oxfam estimates there are 120,000 people on the move in the Goma area, including 60,000 who fled Kanyaruchinya camp for displaced people, 15km north of Goma, ahead of M23’s advance.

Unsafe water

Despite the risks, lake water has become a commodity. “We can’t drink the rainwater because of the volcano,” said a young man as he drew water from Lake Kivu to fill one of eight 20-litre jerrycans strapped to his bicycle.

Rainwater during volcanic activity has been found to contain harmful contaminants and heavy metals, and Goma lies approximately 15km away from the continuously smoking Nyiragongo Volcano.

“I can sell one can for 500 Congolese francs [about US$0.50] in town,” he said. READ MORE…

Al Jazeera reports of thousands fleeing the city of Sake, as M23 rebel groups spread westward.

image credit: Jessica Hatcher/IRIN


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