Congo: Entrepreneur delivers sustainable water supply to Goma | Africa | DW | 23.11.2021

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Africa

Congo: Entrepreneur delivers sustainable water supply to Goma

Businessman Jack Kahorha formed a company in 2017 to provide fresh drinking water to local communities. DW examines how it convinced customers to pay for their water and now turns over $400,000 a year.

Yme Jibu customers drawing water from faucets at wells in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Yme Jibu customers in Goma wait in line to fill their jerrycans with water

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) holds half of the freshwater reserves of the entire African continent, according to UNICEF. But not even half of the Congolese population has access to clean drinking water.

Entrepreneur Jack Kahorha refused to accept that. So, four years ago, he and two friends founded a water company, Yme Jibu, in Goma, the capital of DRC's North Kivu province.

"I told myself that I have to do something so that Congolese get water, he told DW. "Even if I start with 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 people — it is a beginning."

Entrepreneur Jack Kahorha in front of a water reservoir with Eugenie Fatuma Anyenyeri, who manages the tank

Entrepreneur Jack Kahorha in front of a water reservoir with Eugenie Fatuma Anyenyeri, who manages the tank

Expanding reach

Yme Jibu serves 83,000 people on the outskirts of Goma, a city of over 1 million people that sits on the shore of Lake Kivu, just beside the Rwandan border. Next year, the number of locals benefiting from the clean water his company distributes is expected to reach 140,000.

The company pumps water from the lake, treats it with chlorine, then delivers it to households and community faucets in the city districts.

There, mainly girls and women fill the water into jerrycans and carry them home on their backs. Yme Jibu generates two-thirds of its $400,000 (€355,000) turnover from the faucet business.

This is because a private connection to the water supply costs $860 — considered too expensive for most Congolese.

In the eastern part of the country, poverty rates are particularly high because conflict and arbitrariness slow down efforts to develop the economy.

Investors tend to avoid the region, so young people often struggle to find work.

Two young women filling a jerrycan with water in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mainly girls and women fill the water into jerrycans and carry them home on their backs

Help for refugees

Yme Jibu employs a staff of 22 and cooperates with 440 water traders who operate the faucets and reservoirs in the districts.

Because the business took over water provision from aid organizations, Kahorha had to convince his customers to pay for the service.

When the Nyiragongo volcano — which lies just 12 kilometers north of Goma — erupted in 2002, a Norwegian aid organization built wells, faucets and pipelines to supply people who lost their homes to the lava and had fled the city to displacement camps on the outskirts. Later, farmers fleeing militia fighters came to the camps, swelling numbers further.

For more than 15 years, aid organizations provided free drinking water to the refugees and residents who lived near the camps.

But an abrupt end loomed, Kahorha recounted: "In 2016, all donors decided to stop providing funds because the emergency was declared to be over and the camps were closed. There was the risk that people will no longer have access to drinking water."

A wooden structure on Lake Kivu, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Yme Jibu treats water from Lake Kivu for households and communities in the city districts

Sustainability issues

The story is a familiar one: When aid budgets dwindle, many supported projects end up in ruins

Former German diplomat and Africa expert Volker Seitz recalled conversations with international donors, who estimated that only one-fifth of the projects in African countries provided the population with a long-term benefit.

Statistics on this subject are lacking because the long-term impact is rarely evaluated. But Kahorha's experience confirmed problems with the sustainability of several water projects:

"Many communities are not trained enough to maintain facilities. That is why they do not work in the long run. I think the donors would be heartbroken if they saw that they had spent millions and had almost nothing left behind."

Yme Jibu is a different story. Since the company received its facilities as donations from aid organizations, it has modernized and expanded its infrastructure.

Watch video 01:50

Volcano refugees start returning to DR Congo from Rwanda

Affordability

Drinking water is reasonably affordable for the poor population of Goma, where a 20-liter jerrycan costs 100 francs ($0.05) to fill.

Households connected to the network pay 4,000 francs ($2.00, €1.78)  per cubic meter. Schools, hospitals and orphanages pay half that amount.

Yme Jibu's income is sufficient for operation, maintenance, water quality control and new pumping stations and faucets. The firm even makes an annual profit of $20,000.

Congolese shareholders have invested a total of $500,000 in the business.

Initially, a European investor participated but cultural differences and disputes over the repayment terms of the borrowed capital led to a falling-out. Since then, Kahorha and his two Congolese partners each own about a third of the company.

They have taken out bank loans for this purpose.

Children line up for water for residents displaced after Mount Nyiragongo erupts on May 29, 2021

Children line up for water for residents displaced after Mount Nyiragongo erupts on May 29, 2021

Good relations with aid organizations

Kahorha described the company's relationships with aid organizations — which are numerous in eastern Congo — as "good".

Oxfam, for example, is paying for the vending machines from which the population will be able to fetch water with a cash card in the future.

Yme Jibu is negotiating with another organization to see if it can help build new pipes and faucets. Because the Nyiragongo erupted again in May, prompting many residents to move away from the city center. Kahorha is preparing for new customers: "People are building like crazy in the area where we are represented. We need to prepare for a rush of potential customers."

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