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DRC: No power, little safe water in Goma

GOMA, 22 November 2012 (IRIN) - Thirty-one bodies have been collected from streets in and around the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) city of Goma since rebels took it over on 20 November. Ten were government troops (FARDC), the rest, civilians, according to an NGO worker.

The guns may be silent and a sense of calm restored to the city, but its population of around a million - swollen by tens of thousands of newly displaced civilians - now faces other perils.

In the fighting between government troops and the M23 rebels now in control of Goma, a main electricity line was cut, leaving large areas of the city without power or piped water.

"We have more than one million inhabitants and additional IDPs here without water. The only point where they can collect water is the lake," said Arthur Sarazin, the head of NGO Merlin’s North Kivu operations.

“And the lake [Kivu] water is not safe to drink," Sarazin added, as a group of young people stripped bare and washed themselves behind him. The water contains cholera bacteria and other waterborne diseases. With little access to sanitation, he says there is an extremely high risk of outbreaks of communicable disease.

Sarazin said he expected the water supply to resume soon.

"Our priority now is preparing for the returning [displaced civilians]", he said. Oxfam estimates there are 120,000 people on the move in the Goma area, including 60,000 who fled Kanyaruchinya camp for displaced people, 15km north of Goma, ahead of M23’s advance.

Unsafe water

Despite the risks, lake water has become a commodity. "We can't drink the rainwater because of the volcano," said a young man as he drew water from Lake Kivu to fill one of eight 20-litre jerrycans strapped to his bicycle.

Rainwater during volcanic activity has been found to contain harmful contaminants and heavy metals, and Goma lies approximately 15km away from the continuously smoking Nyiragongo Volcano.

"I can sell one can for 500 Congolese francs [about US$0.50] in town," he said.

The Congolese Red Cross has set up water purification stations on the edge of the lake. Zephy Baluza, 24, walks to the Red Cross service to get water chlorinated for drinking. He bemoans the presence of M23. "The schools aren't open, there will be no jobs now, shops are shut. Since yesterday, I've eaten only bread."

Like many government facilities in the area, the community support office were Baluza worked in nearby Keshero closed during the rebel advance, leaving him out of a job.

Water - as well as schools - is one of the issues that M23 spokesman Lt Vianney Kazarama raised in a speech to several thousand civilians and policemen at a rally held at Goma’s stadium on 21 November.

Anger at the UN

Many international humanitarian workers, including all “non-essential” UN staff, have been evacuated from the city.

Meanwhile, tensions between the local population and international aid workers have escalated in both North and South Kivu

“They are cross with MONUSCO," said the head of one NGO operating still in North Kivu, referring to the UN mission in DRC. While MONUSCO, alongside FARDC engaged M23 during its advance on Goma, it did not once the rebels entered the city.

Speaking to UN Radio in New York, UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous pointed out that one of the pillars of MONUSCU’s mandate was to “support… not replace” FARDC’s counter-insurgency operations.

“For a series of reasons, FARDC disappeared from the scene [in Goma]. So from the moment we were alone in the presence of M23, it’s clear that the mandate wasn’t to take on M23 directly.”

White 4x4 vehicles of the kind used by UN agencies and NGOs, have been stoned in Goma by angry mobs, according to one NGO worker. Another said her agency had responded by painting their vehicles purple.

"The United Nations never did anything to defend us. They were useless, and now their job is done," said Nicholas, 19, who lives in Goma. It is a sentiment backed up by a group of policemen.

“We have joined M23 - they are the ones keeping the peace,” one said. But not all were so supportive of what many are calling their “new Government”.

There has been rioting and attacks on cars in towns across the region, including Bukvau, Bunia, Butembo and Walikale. This has further impeded humanitarian assessments and response.

"Goma is so poorly resourced to deal with an influx of people like this," said Oxfam spokeswoman Chritina Corbett.


Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Health & Nutrition, Refugees/IDPs, Water & Sanitation,

Copyright © IRIN 2012
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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