Kisenso - water distribution point Kisenso - water distribution point 

The miracle of water and the Missionaries of Africa

Ensuring access to clean water is a constant challenge in a megacity like Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in some outlying districts, the State is simply unable to do so. In the commune of Kisenso, a parish run by the Missionaries of Africa oversees a “water project” which allows local people to access the precious resource without having to walk for miles.

By Xavier Sartre - Kinshasa, DRC

Kisenso is on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Perched on a still green hill, spared from the incessant and suffocating traffic of the Congolese capital due to the lack of streets passable by the majority of vehicles, this township keeps on seeing its population grow. But as is often the case in the megalopolis, basic infrastructure, such as a proper water distribution network, is lacking.

Faced with this shortcoming, the parish of Saint-Etienne, founded sixty years ago by missionaries from Africa, has taken matters into its own hands and set up a water pumping and distribution system, saving the inhabitants from having to travel for miles to get water.

“This project is a great relief for the local population, who were struggling to get access to drinking water,” says Father Michel Agoh, from Togo, the parish vicar. For him, it is normal for the Church to substitute the State in this matter.

“The Church, as a mother, is interested in everything that contributes to the happiness and development of all men and women,” he says, proud of this initiative that the Missionaries of Africa have been working on for six decades. “When the whole population suffers from the lack of water and electricity, the whole social issue also concerns the Church. So we are in our role. Our goal is to have happy people and we are ready to sacrifice everything, as Jesus did, to achieve this,” he adds.

The water pumps for the project in Kisenso
The water pumps for the project in Kisenso

Miles of pipes

The water is drawn from a spring at the foot of Kisenso hill, a short half-hour walk away. The dirt path that takes one there is often kept in good condition by jute rice sacks filled with earth or sand, though the descent is sometimes steep. Along the two-kilometre path, water pipes lie on the surface or are suspended in the air for several metres. Leaks are not uncommon and building houses near the pipes can damage them.

Pablo, the project’s technical manager, knows every metre of the network and its twenty-two fountains distributed throughout the neighbourhood. He leads us to the building that channels the spring, buried under the vegetation. Pumps and generators are installed there. There are many power outages. A system is therefore needed to compensate for the vagaries of the electricity network.

“Some of the clear water is stored in a settling tank before being pumped up the hill to the parish site. There it is stored in large tanks before being redistributed to the fountains,” Pablo explains.

Water vendors throughout the neighbourhood

Residents can buy water from the fountains, where a vendor opens and closes the tap on demand. They pay him 1,000 Congolese francs (50 euro cents) for 25 litres, a price that barely covers the costs of maintaining the network but which remains within the reach of a very poor population that often lacks sanitary facilities.

It is often women or children who go to the distribution point, carrying yellow jerry cans. The distribution of these water points throughout the country means that they do not have to go down to the source and walk several kilometres up a hillside carrying tens of kilos of water.

The hills of Kisenso
The hills of Kisenso

On the day Vatican News visits, there were few people. It rained the day before, so the private reservoirs have filled up. This means savings for the residents who do not have to go to the fountain. The parish of Saint-Etienne must now face competition from another network and the multiplication of individual boreholes.

But as Father Paschal Baphuol, the parish priest, points out, “the water from the project is pure and 100% drinkable, and to abandon this project would be to expose the population to many diseases.”

Moreover, “because of the decrease in revenue, there are difficulties in renewing the machines, pipes, and cables that have been installed, and sometimes it becomes complicated to pay those who sell water,” he explains.

While waiting for donations to buy better equipment and maintain the entire network, the parish, its three priests and two trainee seminarians continue their mission every day. This earns the community “great respect” despite the prevailing insecurity.

Kisenso is home to several gangs of young delinquents and criminals, the Kulunas. They scour the streets at dusk, armed with machetes. Attacks are numerous. The day before, a man was left for dead in front of the parish door.

But up till now, the Missionaries of Africa, thanks to their commitment to the population, have not had to suffer from this violence. It is the miracle of water.

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01 February 2023, 11:37