UNICEF is urgently working to restore water supply to 200,000 people – including at least 100,000 children - in the city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - after the volcanic eruption last month melted principal water pipes and damaged a huge 5000 m³ reservoir.
Without access to safe water and sanitation, children and families are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, with concern especially growing at the threat of a cholera outbreak.
“Cholera is particularly dangerous for the very young, the very old and the undernourished, so an outbreak could have disastrous consequences for children,” said In Hye Sung, UNICEF emergency specialist. “Children under age 5 have the highest incidence of cholera and are more likely to die from it, so it’s critical we ensure that families have access to safe water as soon as possible.”
Many of Goma’s inhabitants have been forced either to flee to nearby towns because their homes have been destroyed by lava or because they were advised by the government to leave due to the possibility of another eruption and the emission of noxious gasses.
UNICEF is working with domestic and international partners to address the issue, including supporting Regideso, the state-owned water company, to redirect and protect a by-pass piping system that will immediately send water from the pumping station next to Lake Kivu into part of the water supply system.
The number of districts without water in the city a fortnight after the eruption has now been reduced from 12 to four because of the by-pass installation. When the work on a second bypass is completed – hopefully by the end of the week – only two districts in the city should be without water.
In the past, cholera epidemics have started when residents of Goma collected dirty contaminated water from Lake Kivu to drink or wash pans.
UNICEF has installed 15 emergency station chlorination points close to the lake where staff are putting chlorination solution in jerry cans for people collecting water from the lake. The chlorinated water is much safer to drink.
During the eruption of 22 May, a fissure burst in the side of Nyiragongo volcano, sending a torrent of molten lava towards Goma. Districts in the northern part of Goma were destroyed and 30 people were killed.
Some 3,500 residents of Goma lost their houses. The main reservoir that supplies the northern section of the city with water was engulfed in lava.
The impact of the water shortages is clearly illustrated in Buhene, a district that was flattened by lava.
The district has seen hundreds of people queue up with yellow plastic jerrycans while a truck is hooked up to a pump that supplies them with water as a temporary measure until a new pipe can be fitted.
UNICEF, along with its partners Caritas and AVUDS was one of the first agencies to truck water to tens of thousands of people displaced by the eruption in the nearby towns of Sake, Rutshuru and Minova – and is now doing the same in Goma.
The trucking operation has been scaled up day-by-day, aimed at providing emergency water supplies to some 200,000 people.
The trucking operation will be scaled down once Goma’s water network is partly functional again – an estimated 60,000 displaced people returning to the city will initially rely on trucked water.
A task force coordinated by Regideso and consisting of CICR, Mercy Corps and UNICEF is supporting Virunga Energy to install 1,500 meters of pipe on top of the lava to replace pipework that melted.
They will reconnect the pumping station to distribution reservoirs that were not damaged during the eruption and are located in the hills above Goma.
In addition, UNICEF is supporting Regideso to implement an expert evaluation on how best to repair the 5000 m3 reservoir that was damaged by the lava.
On 27 May the acting governor of North Kivu province, Lieutenant General Constant Ndima, ordered hundreds of thousands of people living in Goma city centre to evacuate, warning that another eruption on the ground or under the lake could not be ruled out.
Most of those who fled to the nearby town from Goma are enduring miserable conditions – with people sleeping without blankets or mattresses on the floors of unfinished buildings.
Many displaced people are scared to return and will be even more reluctant to do so unless they can be sure of receiving safe water.