Imagine a town of almost 400,000 people (think incorporated city population of New Orleans) with no paved roads, no electricity, no running water and no sanitation. The people migrating to this town from remote areas hoped to find greater opportunities but discovered there were few jobs and less farming land to go around. Most families earn less than a dollar each day and live in simple mud and thatch huts that are stacked tightly along the heavily rutted peri-urban streetscape. This is the image of the almost forgotten town of Gemena in the Sud-Ubangi District of the Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Gemena is situated in the northwest corner of the DRC, approximately 100 kilometers from the Ebola River, the origin of the first Ebola virus epidemic in 1976.
The DRC (formerly Zaire) has experienced a tumultuous history of corruption, disease, civil war as well as physical and spiritual oppression that has kept this nation under a yoke of extreme poverty. While the DRC possesses natural resource potential that exceeds the US and European GDP combined, it still remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The current conditions in Gemena are prime evidence of this cruel reality.
World Vision has been involved with relief and development work in the DRC since1984. They began operation in Gemena in 2012 with what they have named the Ledia program. Ledia is a word from the local language, which means “a new thing is coming to this village” and that is exactly what God is doing through World Vision in Gemena. Seeing the primary needs of clean water and infrastructure, World Vision began working immediately with undertaking several massive water projects in some of the most marginalized and vulnerable areas of the town as they also started to develop relationships in the community through local churches and leaders. These local church partnerships are crucial to the success of the overall programming to bring about holistic community health change in water, sanitation and hygiene. These partnerships are also the means by which long-term maintenance of the infrastructure currently being developed will be sustained.
Completing these water projects, however, has been met with great difficulty. Access to materials, equipment and specialized services (such as well drilling) are almost non-existent in this part of the DRC. There are no major highways connecting most parts of the DRC, so transit by road is long and difficult. Most major resources arrive to Gemena by shipment from the capital Kinshasa up the Congo River, which can still take weeks to months. The most efficient but expensive means of transport in the DRC is by air. The only strip of pavement in Gemena is an airport runway occupied by local military and also utilized for local aid services. Such impeded access further increases the already high cost of material provision and specialized services in the DRC.
World Vision requested that EMI come assess the water systems they had started designing and constructing to provide recommendations for their completion. When the EMI team arrived in February 2015, they had begun work on three well-sourced distribution systems as well as a spring-sourced distribution system from a spring they had developed on the edge of town. These distribution systems would help minimize the walking distance required for the people to get access to a safe water source. The first phase of water system development that World Vision has planned in Gemena is anticipated to provide water service for up to 20,000 people.
Despite the challenges with procuring materials and services, World Vision has managed to make significant progress in the development of these systems. They have drilled two of the proposed high-yield wells and erected steel tanks that provide 100 cubic meters of water storage at both of those locations, but there is still much more work to be done in order to see water being delivered to the people.
The EMI team was able to provide several beneficial recommendations for the completion of the water systems, but the greatest impact of our services was in building the capacity of World Vision’s local design professionals to effectively evaluate and manage the project. In March 2014, World Vision brought Franck Nungombe from Goma to manage the water projects in the Ledia program area. Franck is a recent engineering graduate who has great potential to be a very competent engineer and project manager. Some of the engineering techniques and tools that the EMI team was able to leave with Franck included building a weir to estimate the water flow in potential new spring sources and developing a computer model simulation of the water flow in the current proposed piping system.
The computer model gave immediate benefit in helping Franck determine that the proposed pipe sizes were too small and there were not enough looped connections to get the desired flow at the taps. Instead of us simply providing those recommendations, however, the EMI team was able to build Franck’s capacity to more effectively evaluate the designs himself after our visit. Franck was able to be trained to use the hydraulic model by John Agee (EMI staff and team member currently studying French for the start of EMI’s West Africa Office). John has also made himself available to Franck to provide additional support and training in order to further increase his capacity for future analysis.
When EMI served World Vision Malawi in 2014, one of the issues that we noticed that had plagued the water system development in Chikwina was the lack of consistent and competent technical oversight throughout the design and construction process. This led to tremendous effort and expense of initially installing the wrong pipe size and material for proper function of the water system. In Gemena, however, they will not be learning by trial and error. By having Franck there to manage these water projects and equipping him with the necessary engineering tools and counsel to do his job well, they will avoid learning things the hard way. As Proverbs 15:22 says,
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
As the EMI team departed, World Vision’s Regional Program Manager, Johnson Mawaba, said, “This is just the beginning” as he referred to the work to be done in the Ledia program and EMI’s partnership with World Vision to provide clean water.