MAG’s clearance of a mined well has improved drinking water facilities for thousands of people in Ikela, a major site of conflict during the second Congolese civil war.
Between 1998 and 2002, rebel and Government forces, as well as armies from four neighbouring countries, passed through the fiercely contested area of southern Equateur province, leaving large quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in their wake and planting a number of minefields around the town.
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Last June, in the Vodacom and Masangu quarters of the town, a MAG Community Liaison team – whose job it is to liaise with local people to find out what and where the problem is – encountered a fresh water source that had been mined by Ugandan troops during the conflict.
As a result, the hundred or so households in the area were forced to walk more than a kilometre, several times a day, to obtain water from unclean natural sources or wells in other communities.
The local doctor, Mr Venas Makaya, explains: “The blockage [the lack of access to the water source] caused many water-related diseases, such as skin diseases and typhoid that have been highly prevalent in the past six years in Ikela city.”
A woman in Ikela collecting water from the newly safe source.
Top: A MAG Community Liaison team member talking to primary school boys while they fetch water.
[Photos: MAG DRC]
Children and pregnant women were particularly vulnerable to these diseases, making up 70 per cent of patients at the regional hospital, located just 300 metres from the well.
During a two-week demining operation of the area around the well, a MAG Manual Clearance Team removed and safely destroyed one landmine and one unexploded mortar.
Confidence in using the water source was restored thanks to MAG’s targeted communication with key members of the community. In addition, the Manual Clearance Team constructed steps, to improve access to the zone, and unclogged the source itself, restoring the community’s safe and convenient access to water.
Three months later, MAG revisited the area to assess the impact of the work. An estimated 2,630 people, including 820 schoolchildren, were now using the well, collecting between five and 30 litres of water twice a day for their households.
Millennium Development Goals
Improving maternal health and increasing sustainable access to safe drinking water are two key elements in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (specifically, goals five and seven).
These 'MDGs' form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanised unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.
“This water is very important to our community,” local woman Elembe Ekafe Marina told us. “It is used for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes and watering crops such as tomatoes and vegetables.”
The number of water-borne diseases such as worms, diarrhoea and skin problems has decreased.
Moreover, this water point is now used as the primary water source for the local hospital, improving the health of the large number of pregnant women who are patients there. In the hospital, expectant mother Marie Eluma explained to us how the doctor had told patients that they should only drink water from this source as it is clean and safe.
MAG teams first visited Ikela in 2006 and have been returning regularly to progressively clear the dangerous areas, make the local population aware of the risks posed by remnants of conflict and instill good practices.
Although Ikela is located in one of the most remote parts of central Africa, its strategic location at the crossroads between three provinces caused it to be a major site of conflict during the second Congolese civil war.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has the lowest access to improved drinking water facilities of all its neighbours, and simple actions like the one cited here will be key to making progress towards the targets laid out in the UN's Millennium Development Goals [www.un.org/millenniumgoals].
12 April 2010
MAG would like to express its thanks to the following past and current donors to its DRC operations: Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; UK Ministry of Defence Conflict Prevention Pool; DFID (UK Department for International Development) / UKaid; Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; UK Ministry of Defence; Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission (GOAC); Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, U.S. Department of State; Sida (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency); UNICEF. Click on Tags below for related articles.