Globalization, Water, and the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been affected by globalization in many ways.  The most damaging of these effects can be shown in the recent war in the DRC.  Although there were troops from several African countriesΓÇöUganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, as well as from the DRCΓÇönone of the firearms used are made in any of these countries.  Globalization has made it such that firearms from North Korea, Israel, South Africa, Europe, and North America have been used to kill millions (estimated 3 million dead because of this war) in Central Africa.

In many ways, this war in the DRC was a war over mineral resources used in the global economy.  The DRC has valuable deposits of diamonds, coltan, copper, tin, and cassiterite.  Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, is refined into tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge and is used to make capacitors for miniature circuit boards.  Tantalum capacitors are used in cell phones, laptops, pagers, nuclear reactors, Play Stations, and computer chips.  Rwanda and Uganda seized control of the coltan areas in the DRC and made as much as $20 million per month as prices for coltan varied from $200 to $400 per kilogram at one point.  Global companies like Nokia and Sony do not have any manufacturing plants in the DRC, but were economically responsible for this war.

It is ironic that this war was expanded into large areas of the DRC and prolonged because of global communications devices.  The cell phones and other communication devices made by companies such as Nokia and Sony made it possible for the troops to communicate with each other over large areas and long distances, thus taking the war to many parts of the DRC and prolonging it over several years (about five years of steady fighting).  Globalization has a large part to play in this war in the DRC.

The effects of this war have been tragic.  The United Nations estimates that there are still about 2.7 million people displaced by the war in the DRC in addition to the approximately 3 million people who died.  The UNDP Human Development Index ranks the DRC 152 out of 174 countries in the world—a fall of 12 places since 1992.  The UN states that infant (less than one year old) and infanto-juvenile mortality has increased from 114 and 190 per thousand in 1995 to 126 and 213 per thousand in 2002.  The rate of maternal mortality is estimated at 1,298 per 1,000,000 live births—one of the highest in the world.  Oxfam GB estimated that in 2001 up to 65% of the population of the DRC (about 35 million people) was under-nourished and that 16 million had critical food needs.  In Kinshasa, vast numbers of people ate only once every two or three days.  There were 2,056 doctors in the DRC in 2001 for over 50 million people.  Of these, 930 (over 45%) were in Kinshasa.  In 2001 at least 37% of the population (about 18.5 million people) had no access to any kind of health care.  Preventable diseases, such as measles, whooping cough, bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, and worms, increased.  There were over 10,000 child soldiers under 18 years of age with a substantial number under the age of 12.  The rate of HIV/AIDS has risen from about 5.1% in 1995 to over 8% in some areas today.  Approximately 40% of the school-age children were not in classes because of the war.  Much more could be said about the effects of the war, but the above is enough to show some of the tragedies of globalization felt by the war in the Congo.

Another effect of the war, as the Oxfam GB report of 2001 stated, “Only 45 per cent of the people have access to safe drinking water.  In some rural areas, this is as low as three per cent.”  In some ways this is another irony because the DRC lies within the basin of the Congo River, the second largest river in volume in the world.  The vast majority of the population of the DRC lives within a few miles of a source of water.  The scarcity is not the scarcity of water, itself.  It is the scarcity of safe drinking water.  This leads to a high rate of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, and of water contact diseases, such as schistosomiasis.

A UN report in 2001 showed that 6,000 people per day, or over two million per year, are dying as a result unhealthy water conditions.  This report went on to state that over 300 million people in Africa still do not have reasonable access to safe water and that almost half of the people in Africa have suffered from water-related diseases.  The DRC is among those African countries that have unhealthy water conditions.  While exact statistics are difficult to get because of the war situation, it is estimated that around 100 people per day (mostly children) die in the DRC due to unhealthy water conditions, mainly from the diseases mentioned above.

WaterAid, a British charity, states, “The introduction of a modest water pump in an African village, . . . can transform life.  Clean water can foster the empowerment of rural women, who have to walk miles every day to find a well—and when they find it, it may be polluted.  Clean water can also help to eradicate the waterborne diseases that claim so many of their children’s lives.”  The problem is that most African countries, including the DRC, are so poor that they cannot drill or dig enough wells in each village.  They need help from the international community even to do this relatively simple task.

This is also where globalization plays a part.  An Inter Press Service article states that “Jan Egeland, U. N. under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, says he is livid that the international donor community has brushed aside . . . urgent U. N. appeals for Africa.  And he perceives a strong bias—this time based on language—is to blame in how donors decide who gets what.  Egeland told reporters . . . that overt discrimination percolates down to whether a country is French, Portuguese, or English-speaking.  He said that both French and Portuguese-speaking countries ‘are systematically lower on our funding tables than many of the English-speaking countries.’”  This same article goes on to say, “But African activists and humanitarian organizations said they are not surprised over the lack of donor commitment to those of the world’s poorer nations that happen to lie in Africa—whether based on language or race.  ‘The larger problem is that the global North looks at Africa as a basket case which will have not resolution,’ [says] Bill Fletcher, president of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum.”  This article again says, “Caroline Green of the aid charity Oxfam International said she agrees with Egeland’s criticism of donors . . . ‘Yet the majority of rich donor countries continue to fund on the basis of news headlines, not  need,’ she [said].

The DRC does not get the amount of humanitarian aid that other countries do because it is in Africa and it is French-speaking.  This is despite the fact that it is one of the neediest countries in the world being placed on the UNDP Human Development Index at 152 out of 174 countries in the world.

The rural areas of the DRC mostly use rivers as their main source of water.  As a result, most of the rural population does not have a clean water supply.  Let’s look at the six hospital operated by the Community of the Disciples of Christ of the Congo (CDCC), Global Ministries partner for over 100 years,  located in the rural southern part of the Equator Province of the DRC.  All of these hospitals are located within 2 miles of the Congo River or one of its tributaries.  Five of the six are located with half a mile of a river, while the hospital at Wema is a little over a mile and a half from a river.  At present, these hospitals all have their main source of water as a river.  However all these rivers are somewhat polluted and are a source of the waterborne and water contact diseases previously mentioned.  As a result, patients sometimes contact one of these water borne diseases while in the hospital even if they were there for a few days for a minor operation.  For example, Bolamba went to Monieka Hospital for a relatively minor operation to remove his diseased appendix.  While he began to recover nicely from his appendix operation, he contacted typhoid fever (probably from the river water used at the hospital) and died within a few days.  Hopefully this is about to change as money has just been received from the United Church of Christ’s One Great Hour of Sharing funds to have wells dug and a hand pump placed at each of these six hospitals.  These wells should be a source of relatively clean water that should help eradicate many deaths due to waterborne diseases.  Many more similar efforts need to be made if most of the DRC is to achieve clean water.   

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