Residents of Goma collect water from Lake Kivu. On the left, walls have severely restricted access to the water. Screen shot of a video below.
 
 
Lake Kivu is known as a haven for residents of Goma. Some go there for a swim; others earn money by doing odd jobs there. However, a recent decision by the government to grant plots of land to deserving soldiers has greatly reduced access to the site.
 
At 2,700 square kilometres, Lake Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of the largest lakes in Africa. Goma residents go there regularly to do daily tasks: collect water and clean dishes, for example. However, over the years, access has been gradually restricted as hotels and homes were built along the shore, particularly in the rich Volcans neighbourhood between Goma’s city centre and the lake.
 
Several hotel complexes and luxury homes have been built along the shores of Lake Kivu. Photo by Sasha Grabow, Wikimedia.
 
Our Observers say that only around a hundred metres, comprised of five plots of land belonging to the provincial council, were still accessible in this area. But in November 2013, a North Kivu government decree granted the remaining plots to DR Congo army personnel (the FARDC) as a way to thank them for their efforts during the war against the M23 rebels, which the army had won a few days earlier.
 
 
A resident of Goma went to the site on Saturday. There is only a small opening left for people to reach the lake.
 
The red circle is the place in the Volcans neighbourhood where the plots of land have been given away.

“This was the only way many people could reach the lake”

Micheline Mwendike lives in Goma, where she works for humanitarian organisations. She is a member of LUCHA, a non-political youth movement.
 
Since January, we’ve seen fences being built where people used to walk through to go swimming during the weekend. This wasn’t very problematic, as we could still go through. However, it started to become a real problem a few weeks ago when the military started to ban all passage, and threatened anyone who protested against the construction work. [Two journalists in Goma contacted by FRANCE 24 say they had been attacked by men guarding the construction sites they were filming].
 
Construction has already begun. Photo by Magloire Paluku. Photo by Magloire Paluku.
 
This was the only place we could still pass through. From a touristic point of view, it’s a catastrophe, because access to the lake is now totally privatised. But the greater problem is that the decision affects the most disadvantaged: a lot of young unemployed people use lake water to wash the cars or motorbikes of more well-off people, particularly those from the Volcans neighbourhood.

These plots also gave people access to the lake during frequent water cuts [since the 2002 eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano, the water distribution network has been severely damaged by the lava, and has not returned to normal function]. A lot of people from the Birere neighbourhood [a very poor area of Goma] went there to collect water during the cuts. Now, the closest access point is four kilometres away, near the port of Goma. It’s revolting that political decisions have been made without considering the consequences.
 
After a call by civil society organisations in Goma, North Kivu politicians went down to the site on May 13 to see the blocked access to Lake Kivu. They are due to deliver a report soon.
 
North Kivu lawmakers on a fact-finding mission on May 13.
 
The governor of North Kivu, Julien Paluku, who signed the governmental decree, explained:
 
I signed the decree to compensate the soldiers and military officers who acted flawlessly during the war against the M23. This is not a public beach, because these were plots belonging to the North Kivu government, which has the right to decide what should be done with it. They were given away transparently and legally.

I invite people who want to take advantage of Lake Kivu to go to the official beaches located around the port or near the governor’s residence [Editor’s note: about four kilometres away from the Volcans neighbourhood].
  
If you know of a similar problem, send your photos to this email address: observers@france24.com
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist (@alexcapron).