As violence once again rocked the city of Goma, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the city's more than 500,000 inhabitants found themselves without power. With the support of the ICRC, engineers from the DRC have been working to restore this essential service.
On 20 November, the high-tension cable supplying power to Goma was damaged in several places and severed by the clashes raging in the city and the surrounding area. At 5 p.m., as night fell, Goma was plunged into complete darkness. For the city's more than 500,000 inhabitants and the many people who had been driven there by the fighting and had already been through an ordeal, there was no street lighting in some neighbourhoods and no way to recharge their mobile phones - a lifeline for many resident and displaced families in the war zone that has been North Kivu for more than 15 years. No power meant no way to call their family members who had sought refuge over the border or outside the city. Buildings providing essential services, such as blood banks and water pumping stations, were also affected. As a result, the water supply to the whole city was cut.
Working closely with the national electricity and water boards, the ICRC swiftly swung into action to tackle the emergency. Fuel was provided to the national water board for the generators in Keshero pumping station (supplying the west of Goma) and to the electricity board to activate the city's back-up system, which powers the lake pumping station (supplying water to the east of the city). Thanks to the transformer donated by the ICRC in 2008, which enables the electricity board's generator in Goma to power the city's grid, the water supply has been restored. On 22 November, 70% of the city had running water again.
With the massive influx of displaced people into Goma, water is essential to avoid the spread of contagious diseases and to maintain basic hygiene conditions. "There are no natural water sources in Goma," explained Florence Dapples, head of the ICRC's water and habitat programmes in central and southern Africa. "If the water supply runs out, people go to the lake shore to collect water, wash and do their laundry. That encourages the spread of disease." The ICRC trucks water on a daily basis to Don Bosco transit camp for children who have become separated from their families or were formerly associated with armed forces or groups, where around 20,000 people have taken refuge. It also delivers water to N'Dosho and Katindo hospitals, where many war-wounded patients are being treated, and to the Notre Dame d'Afrique centre, which is sheltering dozens of families. Where necessary, the ICRC has also supplied fuel to power the generators of health-care facilities, including Katindo military hospital.
The generators powering the city's water pumping stations cannot run 24 hours a day, however; they are only back-up systems designed to take over during short-term power cuts.
At the request of the national electricity board, the ICRC brought three engineers from Bukavu to Goma. From 24 November, the three men worked around the clock to repair the high-tension cable supplying power to Goma. On the evening of 27 November, a lasting solution was found to restore power to the whole city. "The people of Goma are our friends, colleagues and brothers," said Gérard, one of the electricity board engineers who came from Bukavu. "If such a situation arose in our city, they would do the same for us. We have to help each other and do our duty."
The hundreds of families living and taking refuge in Goma are currently facing extremely precarious circumstances. The ICRC and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are working tirelessly to alleviate people's suffering in the wake of the violence. They are reuniting children with their families, distributing food and treating the wounded.