‘WATER IS LIFE’: WASH PROJECTS AS SOCIETY-COHESION TOOLS FOR GRASSROOTS PEACE-BUILDING IN PROTRACTED CRISIS STATES: DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the lowest levels of access to potable water in the world. Potable water is essential for health, to avoid dehydration and illness through water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Over 20 years of protracted crisis and violence, WASH infrastructure and public services have deteriorated and require rehabilitation, although insecurity delays this process. Participatory WASH projects have previously been implemented to encourage ownership and empowerment of communities. There exists the possibility that WASH projects could additionally promote social-cohesion within fractured communities, leading to sustainable peace-building at grassroots levels. The PHAST initiative (2000) and Tearfund/ODI research (2012) were both consulted to inform the direction of this study, which took the form of a small-scale qualitative study which investigated the perceptions of local professionals on the possibility of WASH projects as localised peace-builders and how current WASH programming could be improved as such. Professionals within communities in Goma, Nyiragongo in DRC were consulted regarding their perceptions of WASH project implementation in the region, and whether they saw a role for WASH projects to play in the peace-building process. Results were analysed through the grounded theory of open coding and four main themes were produced: water availability and quality, Project/NGO interventions, community conflict related to WASH, and perception of WASH projects as social-cohesion tools for grassroots peace-building. Great emphasis was applied by respondents on the link between lack of access to WASH services and risk of sexual violence towards women and girls. Additionally, respondents were concerned that previous WASH programming by NGOS has not involved in-depth participatory methods and so communities regularly feel under-consulted and undermined when projects are implemented without community participation. Finally, perspectives of respondents were positive regarding the use of WASH programming to promote community cohesion, empowerment and resilience. Furthermore, this style of future programming would support ongoing stabilisation of local communities, potentially reducing sexual violence and supporting community-led, sustainable WASH services in turn.