Supplying water to the newly displaced

DR Congo

November 27, 2012

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    Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps staff install a generator to increase capacity in one of Goma's water-pumping stations. Fighting has swelled the population of displaced families in the beleaguered city. Photo: Mercy Corps

Mercy Corps is supplying emergency water services and sanitation supplies to meet the needs of newly displaced families in the beleaguered city of Goma — and to stem the outbreak of waterborne disease.

The recent battle for Goma between Congolese forces and M23 rebels forced a large concentration of internally displaced people to flee west of the city. The fighting also severed the electrical cables that supply the city, idling the machinery that pumps water to most of its population.

Families fleeing the city's battle zones have overwhelmed two camps, known as Mugunga 1 and Mugunga 3, where the current pumping capacity can't supply the now 60,000 residents with enough water to meet their daily needs. Also, in Mugunga 3 there are more than 208 people for every latrine, and 700 people for every handwashing station.

Mercy Corps is supplying the camps with additional generator fuel, chlorine to purify the water, and supplies to build additional latrines and handwashing stations. We are also planning to supply water pumps and generators — and possibly lay additional pipelines — to increase the availability of water in the camps.

Unsanitary conditions in the camps due to overcrowding are fanning fears of a cholera outbreak. Already there have been some reported cases of cholera, an infectious and often fatal bacterial disease.

Mercy Corps is also working with partners to shore up the city-wide water system, which supplies drinking water to 400,000 residents. It is now operating part-time using emergency generators and insufficient pumps. Mercy Corps is coordinating an effort to map IDP concentrations and ensure the system is providing water to nearby public tapstands. This will reduce the need to truck water to multiple, dispersed locations. To maximize the system's capacity, we're installing additional pumps and generators, and providing fuel and purification supplies.

Goma has been without electricity since Nov. 19. It will take weeks to restore, and the supply is expected to remain tenuous, at best, until the hostilities end.