In the Democratic Republic of Congo, land transportation has always been a difficult project to construct and maintain due to the terrain and climate of the Congo Basin. As a result, there have always been serious barriers to both rail and road construction. This is coupled with the fact that DR Congo is a vast country where the towns and cities are separated by enormous distance.
Humans must, however, commute from place to place. The problem of poor road transport networks birthed the necessity for an alternate means of transport. There were the problems of internal conflicts, political corruption, and chronic economic mismanagement that were hindering infrastructural development in the country. With the government showing no intent to fix this problem, Congolese took to water transportation.
According to a study conducted by the World Bank in 2016, many areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken to water transportation as a last resort. There is a lack of infrastructure development in road transport networks in such areas and across the country, with most of the existing infrastructures already broken down. In some areas, road transport infrastructures never existed. Fortunately, DR Congo has navigable waterways that spanned across thousands of kilometers. As such, traditional water transportation has become the dominant means of transportation in most parts of the country, covering over two-thirds of the country.
What then is the problem?
There seem to be no advanced water vehicles for moving people between places with little or no serious water transport investment. The most common means are opened barges with no safety system in place. The time of transportation is also not moderated and is left mostly to the commuters and the transport service providers’ decision. This means that these barges that are not designed for night transportation travel at night more often than not.
Even when they travel during the day, the barges are mostly overloaded and crowded, making it difficult to guarantee safe transportation. This is not far fetched. Transportation companies and or individuals understand the economic state of the country. As such, they know that the majority of the masses using their services cannot afford high prices. To make up for the moderate prices that they charge, they go for volume. More people means more money, even if their transportation fares are economically cheap on average.
The problem associated with this is the frequent loss of lives with water transportation accidents. On the sixth of January, 2021, Al Jazeera reported that at least two children and a woman had drowned following a water transportation accident involving an overloaded barge. The incident took place in Lake Kivu. The concerned boat was destined for the regional capital of Goma. According to a government spokesperson, the boat was from an illegal mooring and was on a night journey before the accident.
The government spokesperson claimed that there were fifty-one passengers on the boat. However, survivors said that there were at least a hundred people on board, with two survivors going as far as saying that the boat must have been carrying between 200 and 250 people.
Problems like this are not strange in the DR Congo. The country has always been plagued by similar disastrous boat accidents like this, mainly due to cargo and passengers’ overloading. For instance, sometimes in September 2019, a boat capsized and sank on the Congo River near the outskirt of Kinshasa. In that accident, thirty-six people were reported missing, and the general fear was that they had drowned. Early that same year, about thirty people were reported dead when a boat sank in a lake in the country’s western region.
What Needs to Be Done?
For safe transportation of people and goods, the people of DRC need good and improved roads free of armed groups attacks. This is, however, a long term solution that has not garnered any governmental attention. The alternative safe route is for cargo and humans to be moved by air traffic. Air transport is an almost impossible alternative for rural dwellers who cannot afford the expensive fares of humans and cargo. As a result, the sad reality is that water transportation cannot be abolished in the meantime, nor should it be abolished ever at all.
It makes economic sense that a country challenged in road and rail infrastructure development by its terrain and climate seeks an alternative form of transportation that is as easy and safe as land transport. For a country like DR Congo with navigable waterways, water transportation is a viable alternative. In the reality of the fact that there is no short term solution to the problems of land transportation, it becomes a necessity and responsibility for us all to develop solutions that will make water transportation safer and affordable.
What Do We Propose?
At ASBL LEF, we are committed to improving the living condition of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is why we have designed a series of events (see here) to raise donations for charity and humanitarian projects in DR Congo through local NGOs.
Solving the problems of Water transportation in DRC is a two-pronged approach. The first approach is awareness. Transportation is a capital intensive sector that may take millions of dollars to develop. However, we aim to create awareness of the dangers of night traveling by water routes while simultaneously deploying the other arm of the solution. Water transportation is not only dangerous and prone to accidents. The efficiency of rescue operations is also greatly impacted compared to during the day. Also, the problem of overloading needs to be addressed by sensitizing both the commuters and transport service providers about the dangers and economic losses associated with an overloaded boat. ASBL LEF also aims to finance local NGOs to sit with policymakers in drafting and ensuring the obedience of better and improved regulation guidelines for water transport in the country.
As a second approach to solving these issues, ASBL LEF will also finance local NGOs in the DRC to sit with transport owners and look at effective ways of building or purchasing better boats with safety features and separate compartments for humans and cargo. ASBL LEF would achieve this through the donations generated during our fundraising events and programs and from our fundraising shop products’ sales.
It has become a global responsibility to ensure people’s right to the basic means of survival, as is transportation. At ASBL LEF, we are glad that you have chosen to ease the lives of the people of DR Congo with us. We assure you that your donations would go a long way in ensuring the provision of safe transportation to the people of DR Congo.