The main core issue with disasters occurring in Africa lies in the response system used to solve crisis.
A particular case deserving any expert attention, is the regular rain flooding occurring in the city of Kinshasa, capital to the tumultuous DR Congo, a country rich in minerals, tormented by civil wars and lacking efficient management system prepared to tackle economic crisis, civil unrest and natural disaster.
One of the key element of solving social and environmental problems is ‘effective management’ application. In an ever evolving world characterized by daily technological and managerial creativity, a large city such as Kinshasa can not afford to ignore changing its managerial philosophy directing its topographical infrastructure.
The dummy definition for the term ‘management’ includes its four pillar functions namely: planning,organizing, leading and controlling. At a wide spectrum, African politics is craving to consume sound management principles which could strengthen its ability to deliver great benefits to ordinary citizens. Long gone are the days where politics operated separately from leadership principles applied within successful private companies. By no means am I advocating for African governments to copy the Western model but on the other hand, using certain tactics involving planning,controlling,organizing will surely empower a city such as Kinshasa to respond effectively against disasters such as flooding.
Surely with all the minerals and the rich natural environment at hand, the DR Congo would manage to create infrastructures protecting its Capital city from drowning into regular rain floods. Unfortunately, it is not the case.
Therefore the problem does not lie within finances or resources or even within manpower (the city of Kinshasa comprises a population of over 10 millions people), but in management style.
And believe it or not, most Belgian infrastructures left in 1960 by the former colons are still in use without being revamped.
Take a look at this picture:
A Kinshasa street with a blocked sewer
The image above pictures a street with a sewer meant to ease the evacuation of water. Unfortunately, a total lack of maintenance has caused blockage in the sewer, proliferation of mosquitoes, malaria diseases, and excessive flooding after heavy rains. The picture section circled in red depicts an uncovered sewer. The concrete on the right side of the sewer is still visible but the concrete on the left has been damaged thus causing the ‘top missing concrete’ ( meant to cover the canal) to sink in the sewer…
What are some of the major areas to focus on when responding to the rain flooding in Kinshasa?
Back in the seventies and eighties, there was a tradition ,named ‘Salongo’, observed by the entire nation (still called Zaire) and in which every citizens and residents were obliged to engage themselves into public sanitation work including the cleaning of streets and sewers.If such operations deemed successful, then one can only conclude that one of the first step towards sewer sanitation must be ‘citizen mobilization’. Clean and well maintained sewers reduce the risk of heavy flooding with devastating consequences.An additional argument in favor of ‘citizen mobilization’ is motivated by the slow governmental process at working towards a cleaner city.
Housing project for the masses
Over ten years ago, the current government in place, implemented a program named ‘les cinq chantiers’ (the five constructions area) aimed at rebuilding and developing the country in five areas namely ‘education,health, water-electricity distribution, job creation and infrastructure.
Alas as most experts would have noticed, the progress done ten years later resonates with disappointment especially within the infrastructure development which should work towards building affordable and safe housing to communities living in the slums of Kinshasa city. Housing projects matter as a prevention policy to protect citizens against damages caused by the flooding. Slums built in the city and along the N’djili river are not designed to effectively protect its dwellers.
There are housing projects ideas proposed but no tangible steps implemented to realize them. The speed of implementing those projects should be proportional to the speed at which global warming is rising.
Informal housing in Kinshasa
Decentralize the city
Kinshasa city edges its limits at the Congo River on its North Western part.
As inherited from the 1960’s through colonization, the city CBD (also economic hub of the city) has been built within the northwestern part of the city. It therefore makes sense that the major part of the population will commute on a daily basis to the CBD in order to find economic opportunities.
The second option Kinshasa commuters have, would be to stay in areas close to the city center such as Gombe, Lingwala, Kinshasa commune or to live in an informal slum, as pictured above, located at a walking distance from the CBD.
Kinshasa city map (credits: geoatlas.com)
What is the problem with the centralized activity of the city?
The problem lies in the geo-spatial position of the city. If you take a good look at the above picture, you will notice that the Congo river edges the CBD and when it rains, the same river overflows towards the northwestern part of the city first…
One solution to help impoverished people living in the slums close to the CBD, would be to decentralize economic activities. An overpopulated city such as Kinshasa should have at least up to 7 economic centers spread in different locations. My suggestion would be to build those economic centers on the Southern zones ( considered to be at a lesser risk from the Congo River overflow) and eastern zones of the city. Such initiatives would move inhabitants towards safer urban zones.
The idea of creating 7 economic centers should receive serious consideration especially with the fact that 10 millions people arguably form a potential market.
Methods of flood control
Various methods of flood control could be used from dams, watergates, river defense control but in my opinion the best flood control would be ‘diversions canals’. The diversion canals could be built from the northwestern edge of the city and directed to the Bas-Congo province.
In addition to controlling the flood from the Congo and N’djili rivers, diversion canals will have the potential of empowering agricultural efforts in the Bas Congo Province.
Picture of diversion canal
What does it really take to bring flood control methods and responses to the city of Kinshasa?
Let’s pause for a moment and breakaway from academic and intellectual brainstorming.Warren Buffet once shared the three qualities he seeks in people he recruits and which are : ‘intelligence, strength and integrity’.
Not surprisingly, he values the third one (integrity) as the most important because if absent, then the two others don’t matter.
In D.R. Congo, the resources and the strength are available but the country needs the integrity of those managing those resources. Integrity in management surpasses the four pillars (organisation, planning,controlling,leading) of decision making.
But for now, citizenship mobilization can help rebuild sewers and create new private economic sectors in the city. It’s not impossible.
About the author: Maurice Kande works at the Gravitazz Insititute as the academic coordinator and has lived in Kinshasa city for over 10 years.The Gravitazz Institute is currently offering short courses,diplomas and certificates in disaster risk reduction management in various locations in Africa (as seminars) . If you wish to enroll with us online, please visit our registration portal.
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