Congo-Brazzaville: Lack of water hurts the entire community (by Privat Martin Massanga, for Farm Radio Weekly in Congo-Brazzaville)

| March 19, 2012

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In Imbimi, a village in northern Congo, access to water is the community’s main problem. Lydia Makouala is a housewife and farmer in Imbimi. She uses water for everything she does, from domestic tasks to making cassava chips.

But water is not abundant in Imbimi. Ms. Makouala explains, “We are forced to go around the marshes at some distance from the village where wells were dug…. You must get up very early to get drinking water.”

There are no wells or boreholes in Imbimi. There are no rivers or streams near the village. Worse, rain has not fallen for several weeks.

Fetching water is the responsibility of women and girls. Carrying plastic jugs and jerry cans on their heads or backs, they walk the two kilometres from the village to the wells in single file.

With so much demand, the wells dry out several times a day. Sometimes the women and girls must wait a long time until the wells refill. Sometimes water is simply unavailable. And sometimes, the water is not good. Ms. Makouala explains, “These wells, one to two meters deep, do not meet the needs of the entire population of the village. Because we use so much, the water becomes cloudy and one is sometimes forced to wait several minutes until it clears and we can resume drawing water.”

Ms. Makouala makes several trips a day between her home and the wells. Each trip takes 45 minutes. On each trip, she carries between 20 and 25 litres of water. Water is used for domestic tasks such as cooking, laundry, dishes, drinking, and toileting. And it is also used to process food.

But the lack of water hinders women’s efforts to farm and process their crops. It limits how much they can grow of their main crop, cassava. Processing cassava requires a significant amount of water. Women soak cassava tubers in bowls of water for several days. Each household compound has a bowl that many women use in turn. Because cassava tubers begin to deteriorate as soon as they are harvested, the women must wait until their first tubers have been soaked before harvesting other tubers. Because demand for cassava is high, these waiting periods mean that the women miss orders for processed cassava.

But the village’s difficulties with water do not only affect women’s livelihoods. They also hurt the younger generation. Nathalie Embobo is director of the village primary school. She explains the negative impact on girls’ education. “Some girls are required by their parents first to fetch water before going to school. They arrive late to class and are all tired. You can imagine their academic achievement.”