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Residents In Goma Are Struggling To Gather Water While Fighting Ebola


Health workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been fighting an outbreak of the Ebola virus for more than a year. The World Health Organization calls it a public health emergency of international concern. But for many living in the city of Goma, near the center of this outbreak, there are more basic concerns, like a lack of running water. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Goma sits right on the shores of a huge freshwater lake. But the city of 2 million people hasn't had running water for years. So in the mornings, just as the sun rises, men, women and children walk miles to collect water. Pascal Bitisimba is 12. The yellow jerrycan that he's carrying is half his size.

PASCAL BITISIMBA: (Through interpreter) Of course, this takes me much of my time. Instead of going to study, I come first to check water.

PERALTA: His whole life, he has never seen running water. Nelisse Kakulia, who came down to the lake to fetch water, can't hide her disgust. Kids drown here all the time, she says. The water isn't treated. The lake lets out methane bubbles that can kill.

NELISSE KAKULIA: (Through interpreter) This is unacceptable.

PERALTA: And the irony of it makes her angry every day. Goma hosts the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in the world. Dozens of charity organizations invest millions every month here. And this is a region brimming with mineral riches. So when she thinks about having to walk to the lake every day, she seethes. But here in Congo, the government will beat you for complaining.

KAKULIA: (Through interpreter) They won't give you that opportunity. They won't listen to you. And the reason why - you feel, like, powerless.

PERALTA: The American charity Mercy Corps has been working in Goma for decades. Many times over those years, they have tried to address the water issue. But Whitney Elmer, the country director, says Congo is complex. It's huge, and there is still active conflict. And it has poor governance across the board. So, for example, when a water system is installed, repairs to keep it in working order never get made.

WHITNEY ELMER: You don't find that in many other countries. And so to be able to really address these issues, it takes a - it takes time.

PERALTA: Still, charities, U.N. agencies and peacekeepers have been here for decades. So I ask her who is to blame.

ELMER: Yeah. I mean, I - honestly, I think - I don't know that there is one person you can blame. I think it's a combination of a number of different actors over a very long period.

PERALTA: Back at the lakefront, I meet Selemani Solomon. He spends his whole day carrying water to the neighborhoods. He charges for each jerrycan. And he pays his rent with his job.

SELEMANI SOLOMON: (Speaking Swahili).

PERALTA: He is not proud of this work, he says, because it's a reminder of how each and every one of them has been failed by their leaders.

SOLOMON: (Through interpreter) How is it called as a city without water?

PERALTA: Sometimes they can collect rainwater at home. But Solomon says this is such a forsaken place, even those have failed this year.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.


Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.