River's decreasing flow alarms Congolese

Boats laden with goods plying the River Congo. JUAKALI KAMBALE | AFRICA REVIEW 

The River Congo waters have drastically decreased in the first six months of the year, causing problems for boat navigation.

According to the DRC public company in charge of the waterways - Régie des Voies Fluviales - the phenomenon is unprecedented in DRC history.

“We are about to declare a state of emergency if the situation lasts and worsens,” said company chairman Benjamin Mukulungu.

In the months of May, June and July, the southern part of the DRC experiences its dry season. And it is winter season in the rest of southern Africa, when the weather is generally cold and dry.

However, the weather in the South African region should not explain the sharp decrease of the Congo waters. According to Congolese meteorologist Amos Paluku, the low water level is linked to other climatic changes observed in the country, particularly in the western DRC.

“People should bear in mind that fresh water is extremely precarious even if Congolese people are used to seeing so much waters in their environment. This year, water levels are very low in the River Congo. This should be considered as a serious warning,” says Mr Paluku.

The River Congo is the backbone of the national economy. From Katanga province in south-eastern DRC, the river enters the Atlantic Ocean, after crossing seven of the country’s 11 provinces.

Several points

Mr Mukulungu, describes the river as the “wet nurse” of the entire country as it is central to the transportation system.

Nowadays, lots of sandbanks are observed at several points of the river and these prevent boats from berthing alongside the quays. Only the major quays, such as Kinshasa’s, are accessible throughout the seasons as they are regularly maintained.

“Our main concern, as a board of the waterways company, is not necessarily the decreasing of waters in the river. The real problem is the lack of maintenance equipment for dredging the sandbanks so as to allow boats to navigate safely and freely,” Mr Mukulungu said.

Acting DRC minister of Transportation Martin Kabwelulu said that the government was aware of these concerns.

“The government is doing its best to get a dredging boat for the River Congo. This should be done within the coming three months,” the minister assured.

The low water affects not only the transportation on the River Congo, but also the functioning of the Inga dam downstream, in Bas-Congo province. Inga is the biggest power-generating dam in the entire country.

The 4,700km River Congo course benefits from the supply of many important tributaries located in the rainy regions of eastern DRC such as rivers Kasai, Ubangi, Aruwimi and Lukuga.

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