The rise or fall of the manual drilling sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo

This is a guest blog by RWSN Member Dr Cheikh Hamidou Kane. This article was originally published in GeoDrilling international and is reposted with thanks. You can read the original article here.

Despite the fact that 50% of Africa’s water fresh water resources are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Congolese, especially in rural areas, have great difficulty ensuring their drinking water supplies. The very limited progress made in supplying safe drinking water to the population has meant that innovative and affordable solutions, coupled with substantial funding, have been sought.

As a result, in 2009, the DRC government adopted launched an initiative under the National School and Sanitation Village Program (PNEVA) to promote manual drilling as a low-cost water access technology. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Rural Development, in collaboration with UNICEF, set out to develop the skills of the private sector and NGOs on manual drilling techniques.

In the first, introductory phase from 2009 to 2012, NGOs were trained, but were not always fully equipped with the necessary skills or drilling equipment to consistently produce quality works that would be sustainable.

Faced with this situation, between 2013 and 2015, UNICEF requested technical support from the Chadian Association for the Promotion of Enterprises Specialized in Low Cost Drilling (ATPESFORC). They set out to help improve the quality of manual drilling in the DRC through the introduction of new drilling equipment of better quality (water jetting) that can be manufactured in the country. During this period, stakeholders in the sector acquired new skills enabling them to build sustainable structures that surpassed the usual drilling record of 27m to reach a depth of 42m thanks to: (i) the use of the new technology (ii) the establishment of national norms and standards for manual drilling including a technical note for water quality testing and (iii) training in administrative, financial and bidding management techniques.

The third phase of the introduction and professionalization of manual drilling in the DRC took place between 2015 and 2019 and focused mainly on the establishment of the national federation of drillers, the identification of areas favourable to manual drilling technologies and the establishment of a national database of water points. During this period and for the first time in the history of the DRC, the supervision of fieldwork was confined to specialized control offices rather than to government agents.

After a decade of learning, adaptation and promotion by UNICEF and its partners, manual drilling technology is now well known in DRC and remains one of the few low-cost technical options adapted to the logistical constraints of the country to improve access to safe drinking water supply in scattered and hard-to-reach rural communities.

Alas the UK Government financial support for PNEVA, through which this manual drilling initiative was implemented, ended in 2019. At present, uncertainties about funding for the manual drilling sector, low household income in rural areas, and the current donor trend to focus investments in urban and peri-urban areas make it difficult to guarantee the continuation of the program on the same scale after 2020. It is also to be feared that the decrease in financing for marginalized areas not considered in village water policies could significantly inhibit safe drinking water access. Such populations are in danger of being left behind. 

The manual drilling sector in the DRC is at a turning point. It could either become widespread, or fail by losing the gains obtained through the PNEVA.  The debate is posed and some elements of response have been developed in a publication through the Rural Water Supply Network (RWSN): https://www.rural-water-supply.net/en/resources/details/930

Dr. Cheikh Hamidou Kane, a native of Senegal, is a Lecturer-Researcher at the University of Thies. He also works as an international consultant and was the UNICEF hydrogeologist overseeing the DRC manual drilling efforts from August 2016 to September 2020.

Author: RWSN Secretariat

RWSN is a global network of rural water supply professionals. Visit https://www.rural-water-supply.net/ to find out more