GOMA, DR Congo: Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, sits by one of the world’s largest freshwater reservoirs and has some of Africa’s heaviest annual rainfall, yet it is a thirsty place.
Most of the city’s one million residents, living close to the shores of Lake Kivu, have to struggle every day to fetch water home. From daybreak, an endless stream of cyclists heads to the lake and back, filling battered containers with as much water as they can carry.
In a makeshift shelter, health worker Fedeline Kabuhu tries to ensure that no container leaves without a dose of chlorine, which she injects with a syringe to make sure the water residents collect is potable. “The people drink this water. They do everything with it,” the 46-year-old French charity worker said.
A single cyclist can transport up to 120 litres (about 250 pints) to be sold on to private water stores. At a rate of 10 trips to the lake each day, the carriers can expect to earn up to $10 (seven euros) between dawn and dusk. But by the end of one morning it started to rain and water collector Lambert Biriko decided to call it a day.
“Today is ruined,” he said, adding that residents would gather run-off rain water instead and “won’t buy anything from us”. Located on the border with Rwanda, Goma is the capital of DR Congo’s North Kivu province, which has been wracked by bloody unrest for more than 20 years, displacing scores of thousands of people.
In those two decades, the city’s population has exploded, swelled by an influx of refugees from neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi as well as local Congolese seeking shelter from marauding armed bands.
At the Sports Circle roundabout in the centre of Goma, an old woman washed herself in a puddle next to a pump where lorries fill up with water before transporting it to other neighbourhoods.
Fiston Mugisho, 20, is unemployed and spends the day washing the few motor-taxis that want to stop. He has to buy water from the cyclists each day or walk to another neighbourhood where houses hooked up to the main grid sell what comes out of their taps. “But you don’t always find water,” Mugisho said.