Poor access to healthcare and water in Tchicanou and Bondi: “There are no doctors there…”

In the villages of Tchicanou, Bondi and Kouakoula, Amnesty International research found that access to water and health remains very limited for residents, despite pledges to provide them from both companies and the state.

All the villages under study in Amnesty International’s research benefited from the State ‘Water for All’ programme. However, at the time of Amnesty International’s visit, the initiative’s facilities were no longer functioning. According to residents, no maintenance had been provided and the solar panels used to power the pump had reportedly been stolen.

Previously, communities would get water from various natural sources. But with the arrival of oil companies and a gravel factory, the water appears to have dried up or become unsafe to drink. Residents interviewed by Amnesty International in Tchicanou, Bondi and Kouakoula said that as early as 2006, oil company officials held meetings with them to advise against drinking water from the river, though this instruction and the reasons for the decision were not issued in writing.

The oil company that took over extraction in 2007 – ENI Congo – also got involved in supplying water to these three villages. The company installed deep boreholes of several dozen metres in 2017 and 2018. But this system also had shortcomings, with pumps breaking down regularly. The company then provided a generator to power a pump; every two days the generator is dropped off in a village in the area, so that it can build up stocks of water, and the oil company also organises water distribution by tanker.

Thus, even while Congo has abundant water resources, and a government that has ratified human rights treaties guaranteeing the right to water, communities are left with non-functioning State water infrastructure, and non-drinkable natural water.

The situation is similar in terms of health provision. The M’Bokou Integrated Health Centre covers the villages of Bondi and Tchicanou and several others in the surrounding area, i.e. one centre for just over 7,000 people. The centre was rehabilitated by ENI-Congo as part of a social project. However, the health centre services are limited. At the time of Amnesty International’s visit, no doctors were assigned to the centre; it had just one midwife, three community workers and four ‘community liaison officers’. There was no laboratory technician assigned to the health centre, and the laboratory, which had previously been renovated by the company, was no longer functioning. Finally, access to the centre is challenging: the rocky road is difficult to travel on, especially during the rainy season when it is in poor condition. Residents told us that they had to travel to Pointe-Noire, 40km from the village, to actually see doctors when they are ill and pay for medicines there, because hardly anything is available at the health centre.   

As with water provision, the State must invest more in public services to ensure people’s right to access healthcare, rather than outsourcing its obligations to companies.

In a response letter to Amnesty International, Metssa Congo denied any toxic nature of its emission of fumes thanks to its “cutting-edge control equipment”. Metssa Congo also said that the smoke was actually from the aluminium furnace, and unrelated to the lead furnace production. The company also claimed that they have all the legal documents to operate in Congo. The collective of residents of Vindoulou filed a complaint in June 2023 to the Pointe-Noire High Court requesting the suspension and the relocation of the Metssa factory, along with reparations.

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