A decade of conflict and mismanagement has turned the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) into one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$170 in 2007. Since 2001, important economic reforms undertaken by the DRC have led to economic growth after 10 years of recession. However, development has been seriously impeded by high systemic corruption(1)and a lack of basic infrastructure throughout the country.
As a result of many years of neglect, mismanagement, and the recent civil war, most of the country's physical infrastructure is in a very poor state. In the water sector, DRC is endowed with abundant resources. Its river network, one of the most extensive in the world, and ground water resources considered to be wide spread, have remained largely untapped. Despite its abundant resources the country faces major challenges in providing water supply to its population. Today, only 11.5 million people have access to safe water supply(2). This figure represents 22 percent of the total population, versus an average of approximately 60 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. The unavailability of safe drinking water poses a major threat to public health with the poor bearing the full brunt of inefficient service delivery, having to pay seven times more than they would otherwise pay for a liter of water had they been adequately served by the national public water utility, REGIDESO. To achieve the MDG targets (i.e. halving by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation, or 71 percent with access to water supply in 2015), an additional 45 million people would need to gain access to safe water supply. This represents a significant challenge, especially when comparing these objectives with the decreasing rate of access to water supply and sanitation (WSS) since 1990.
The status of water supply services in urban areas is particularly worrisome. In the 1970s and 1980s, REGIDESO, charged with managing these services, was one of the most effective public enterprises in DRC (then Zaire) and achieved remarkable growth, financed largely with external grants and loans. Since 1990, the operational performance of REGIDESO has declined considerably. As a result, the rate of coverage of water supply services in urban areas has fallen, from 68 percent in 1990 to 353percent in 2006. This means that in the urban sector, only 7.3 million of residents (out of 21 million urban inhabitants in DRC) have access to water today. Most of the REGIDESO systems serving secondary cities are not operating today, due to the combined effects of war, lack of investment and maintenance, and the suspension of aid.
In 17 years, between 1989 and 2006, and despite the strong urbanization growth in the country4: (i) the number of connections decreased by 8 percent; and (ii) the volume of water sold decreased by 10 percent. Over the same period, the number of connections per km decreased from 36 to 18 and Regideso's labor productivity has clearly deteriorated from 14 to 22 staff per 1,000 connections.
The project's objective is to increase access to water in selected urban areas through a reform of the water utility. The principal outcomes (to be finalized at appraisal) are as follows: (i) greater access to basic water supply services, mainly through household connections and standposts; (ii) reduced losses and higher productivity; and (iii) improvement of the financial position of REGIDESO.
The project will also contribute directly to achieving the MDGs, especially the seventh MDG (MDG-7) which consists of cutting by half, by 2015, the proportion of people without acess to sustainable safe drinking water and basic sanitation. In this regard, it is estimated that approximately 2 million city dwellers will gain access to drinking water as a result of the project, and this will also help achieve the following MDGs: MDG-1 (improve the quality of life), MDG-4 (reduce infant mortality), MDG-5 (improve maternal health), and MDG-6 (fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases).
3. Rationale for Bank Involvement
The Bank's assistance is fully aligned with the agenda detailed in the country's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and the proposed project itself fully supports two of the five pillars of the PRSP. The World Bank is well positioned to support the urban water sector. First, the Bank has the ability to make big enough investments in this large country to achieve significant results of rehabilitation and increased access. The Bank has also significant experience and expertise in water engineering, commercial operation of water utilities and, more broadly, in water sector reform in and outside the SSA Region. Lastly, the Bank, working in partnership with the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and drawing on lessons from the SSA Region, is well positioned in terms of expertise and knowledge to assist the government in establishing the necessary conditions and environment leading to future investments from other donors in the sector. In view of its experience in water sector reform, both worldwide and within the region (for example, in Senegal and Niger) the Bank possesses the comparative advantage necessary to promote effective design and execution.