Congo’s Struggle for Water

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Anne Vickers, AFJN intern 2007

 

“When the poor and needy seek water, I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”  Isaiah 41:17-18

In the May/June 2007 newsletter, Jacques Bahati wrote “the foreign multinationals [have] been looting Congolese natural resources, leaving nothing to the people and nurturing war by arming rebel factions.”  During my time at AFJN, I have been researching one such example: the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its effects on the DRC’s water supply.

In a presentation to the Consultation on the Extractive Sector, November 2005, Amnesty International states:

“The DRC conflict has killed three million people and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in mineral-rich lands. Combatants have killed or tortured independent miners and traders for their minerals or money.  Several companies in eastern DRC have provided resources in the form of taxation, or provide services, or otherwise contribute to the warring factions’ revenues, otherwise they cannot operate in the area. Consistent testimonies show that in some instances such contributions are the major, if not the sole, source of finance with which armed groups acquire weapons which are then used to commit human rights abuses against civilians. The link between companies and the war is clear, and the companies are indirectly contributing to the cycle of violence.” (Amnesty International, 2005)

Furthermore, corrupt contracts have been signed that give away large portions of DRC’s mineral wealth and benefit only the companies and high ranking officials who made the deals.  On April 20, 2007, Martin Kabwelulu, the Minister of Mines, announced the creation of an inter-ministerial commission to “revisit” these contracts between private companies and the state. Meanwhile, the mining industry continues to exploit the Congolese people.

Of all the extractive industries, mining is where water issues are most acute.  Mining in developing countries like the DRC has increased due to the growing global economy’s need for raw materials such as gold, copper, and coltan (used in our cell phones and computer chips).  Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water are pumped out of local rivers, taking away much needed water resources.  The remaining pit is then used for chemically-processed waste, raising the acid levels and creating a toxic environment.  This pollution affects the farming economies where these mining projects are located, poor areas that need the water not only for drinking, but also for irrigation.  The contaminated water also contributes to a high level of waterborne diseases, such as cholera.

Local people are not paid for the use of their water, and some families living near mining projects have even been displaced.  As there is little government capacity to regulate the massive mining industries, nothing has been done to remedy the situation.  What is more, the World Bank has played a significant role in supporting mining projects.  The economic benefits (primarily to the government) are not worth the negative impacts on the environment and local communities.  In the northeastern area of Mongbwalu, 80% of the population depends on mining for their source of income, but the majority of the wealth is smuggled out of the country.

The Congo River is 2,900 miles long.  Its drainage basin covers 1,335,000 square miles, which includes almost the entire country and six other bordering African nations, yet only 22% of Congolese have access to safe drinking water. According to Jean-Roger Kaseki, “It is estimated that 1,200 people die each day from conflict-related disease, hunger, and violence in the DRC.  Conflict has been fueled by the struggle for mineral wealth.  Congo’s mineral resources could be used to fund development.  Instead, the government allows foreign mining companies to exploit the gold while giving relatively little back to the country or to local communities.”

There are ways you can be active in promoting change in the DRC and in other developing countries facing the same water issues and exploitation by the mining industry.  Join AFJN in asking that more appropriations be added to the Water for the Poor Act (P.L. 109-121).  The Religious Working Group on Water, of which AFJN executive director Father Rocco Puopolo is a member, is calling on U.S. policy makers and inter-governmental institutions to “ensure universal, sustainable access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.”  Contact your Senator asking for increased appropriations and funding for water development programs (look for talking points and sample letters on our website).  Oxfam America and Earthworks have also created the “No Dirty Gold” campaign to end dirty gold mining practices.  Twenty-five jewelry retailers have endorsed the campaign’s “Golden Rules” criteria for more responsible mining.  Visit their website to find out how you can take action against dirty gold mining: www.nodirtygold.org.

 

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