Bahoro collects water from the taps of the new water system

Water and work help rebuild lives

Jean-Marie Bahora thought he knew the telltale signs of an imminent volcano. He had a lot of experience in reading volcanic warning signs and monitoring temperature anomalies and had lived through the eruptions of Nyiragongo volcano in eastern DRC in 1970, and 2002. Using this knowledge and lived experience, he and other community members would work together to alert each other of eruptions.

Still, Nyiragongo surprised them. The eruption in May 2021 came quickly with few alerts, leaving Bahora—and thousands of others—without time to pack their belongings or prepare their families to take shelter.

The volcano spewed lava toward Rwanda and the city of Goma in the DRC, destroying homes and forcing 250,000 people to evacuate to overcrowded camps where cholera could quickly spread because of a lack of water and sanitation. 

In response, Oxfam Québec – with support from the government of Canada and the Humanitarian Coalition—constructed 100 communal latrines and 50 communal bathrooms with waste management systems and hand-washing units. Culturally and gender-appropriate hygiene promotion sessions were conducted for the affected population. 

Additionally, to address the immediate need for clean drinking water, Oxfam installed water storage tanks and trained community members and leaders on maintenance and operations. Bahora is now part of the team in the camp that ensures the protection and maintenance of the water systems. 

“Every day, I have to make sure that all the standpipes are working properly and that there is enough water in the tanks to supply the whole site and that handwashing devices are supplied with water and used properly,” Bahora explains. “We also have megaphones to inform the disaster victims on how they should use and protect the water works built by Oxfam.”

His wish is that one day, when he can return to his village, the same structures will be in place there. “I am happy when I see our taps, laundry tubs, and jerry cans for drawing water and when I see that other people have joined my cause to protect these structures.”