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Bornes fontaines RDC
For the past several years, the PILAEP project has backed the instalment of standpipes to facilitate access to drinking water in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's greater Kinshasa area. A project evaluation indicates that while considerable progress has been made, there is still work to do.
Evaluations Report 2023
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In 2018, just one third of the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo had basic access to drinking water. The situation was even more critical in the outlying districts of large cities, due to rapid population growth and precarious infrastructure. Problems range from waterborne diseases and unhygienic conditions, to the time-consuming search for water. 

That’s why PILAEP (the French acronym for “Promotion of Innovative Methods for Drinking Water access” project) was launched in 2016. Its aim was to establish autonomous mini-networks of drinking water and accompanying community management systems in 26 outlying districts of Kinshasa.

See also: Evaluations Report 2023

The program was evaluated by the Hydroconseil firm and IRD-DIAL in 2021–2022. The findings have helped to determine the concrete effects of the project on the lives of the communities, which will allow participants and observers to draw lessons to better adapt it to the evolving local issues. 

Improved access to drinking water

The evaluation report indicates that, between 2016 and 2022, PILAEP helped facilitate access to water for the inhabitants of these 26 neighborhoods. The standpipes were installed at a maximum of 250 meters from each dwelling, thereby reducing the average time needed to fetch water by 34 minutes per person. In addition, the amount collected per day per person increased by nearly 11 liters. 

The evaluation also shows that users rate the service as quite satisfactory, with the majority having reported a favorable opinion overall (compared to 38% in 2018), despite breakdowns and doubts about the professionalism of the managers.

The way this essential service operates will nonetheless have to be adapted, because between 2018 and 2021 the project’s target districts experienced strong population growth and a high rate of population mobility. “These processes lead to a slow and structural gentrification, meaning that needs are changing,” says Léa Macias, evaluation officer at AFD. The top challenge in helping the service meet those needs will be to improve its flexibility, in terms of both opening hours and prices.

A community-managed service

The PILAEP standpipes are managed by drinking water user associations. The project evaluation indicates that these associations suffer from a lack of transparency, however, especially in their financial management. This can cause mistrust among users, who question the representativeness and real commitment of the associations. It’s thus essential to inform, alert, and involve the residents. Problems in communication targeting the local residents, for example on the monitoring of the management of the service in particular, threaten the sustainability of the user associations.

It is therefore crucial to consolidate the internal organization of the user associations, to enhance their legitimacy and improve their management. In addition to clarifying the roles and responsibilities of their members, it’s important to build the capacities of these associations and to set up a monitoring, verification, and communication framework for greater accountability and transparency.

Institutional recognition needed

In addition, the project period saw increased private drilling for water—the quality of which is questionable—in the outlying districts. Léa Macias reports that this “led to a competitive environment that hadn’t been foreseen and meant that it was not possible to properly measure the various impacts of the project.”

The growth in competing infrastructure raises the question of whether the user associations are sustainable and suggests they should be integrated into the DRC public water sector more swiftly. They also need support from an umbrella organization capable of representing them, so that they can gain greater legitimacy, institutional recognition, and legislative backing. 

Such recommendations from the project evaluation are valuable, and could be used by the DRC authorities to systematize and ensure the effectiveness of this unique form of water management.