Many residents of Goma have been leaving the city since Thursday, May 27, heading for the town of Sake to take shelter from a potential new eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano. Alain Wandimoyi / ICRC

DR Congo: The population of Goma flees a volcano’s menace as a major humanitarian crisis looms

Fearing another eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), thousands of people are fleeing the city of Goma and its surroundings. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has temporarily relocated part of its teams to Bukavu and Minova, and with its partners in the Red Cross Movement, remains mobilized to meet the most urgent needs in Goma and the surrounding area.
News release 28 May 2021 Democratic Republic of the Congo Rwanda

People flee danger once again

Even though the eruption of May 22 is over, the gasses released by the volcano are still a threat to Goma's residents. Earthquakes continue to rattle the region, exposing the population to further risk, and it is difficult to specify the extent of the humanitarian needs. "The threat of another eruption is still real and the fear palpable. Earthquakes are still felt every five minutes in the city," said Raphaël Tenaud, ICRC operations manager in Goma.

On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, the exodus of thousands of people began towards the town of Sake in the west following the announcement of the evacuation of part of the city by the authorities due to the risks associated with seismic and volcanic movements.

Around 2 a.m., the families started heading for the port. The streets are full of people and there is a wave of panic, some with vivid memories of the eruptions and destruction of 2002. People are seeking safety, but some are also afraid to abandon their homes.

Fearing another eruption, thousands of people are fleeing the disaster of Goma.
Fearing another eruption, thousands of people are fleeing the disaster of Goma. Dake Okendembo / ICRC

"The people of North Kivu have already struggled with socio-economic challenges and the consequences of armed conflict for decades. The region is one of the most food insecure places in Africa. This catastrophe is a double penalty. With each crisis, the capacity for resilience diminishes,"

Raphaël Tenaud, ICRC operations manager in Goma

Thousands of displaced people are seeking water, shelter, basic necessities, hygiene items and food. With the main road running north from Goma now cut off and all the very fertile cultivated land in that part of the city destroyed, it is likely that the city's residents will suffer food shortages in the days to come.

Prevent family separation

In just 48 hours, nearly 550 children were separated from their families as people fled following the eruption of May 22. It is essential to prevent thousands of displaced people from losing contact with their loved ones.

"We advise families to memorize the phone numbers of their loved ones as much as possible. If a person is traveling with a sufficiently grown child, they need to teach them their full name, their region of origin and the phone numbers of close people, in case they are separated from them," said Rachel Bernhard, head of the ICRC delegation in the DRC.

Homes destroyed and essential services disrupted

More than 900 houses have already been destroyed. The water and electricity supply are still in operation in some parts of the city, but it's not clear exactly what coverage there is. The lava has seriously damaged the main reservoir in Goma city. It is estimated that nearly half a million inhabitants are without drinking water, and there is a high risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera. This precariousness is also to be taken into account for the thousands of people who had to leave Goma.

"We are doing everything we can to meet the many challenges associated with this constantly evolving situation, while respecting security measures. Some of our teams are moving with the population, others repair the reservoir or facilitate the supply of water by tanker truck to hospitals and Goma prison," says Rachel Bernhard.

In addition, medical structures require support to ensure continuity of care, particularly in primary health centers. At Ndosho hospital, the ICRC medical team is continuing to take care of gunshot victims from all over North Kivu province. Secondary health facilities received assistance to maintain the supply of electricity, water and medicines.

“Oh my child! A mother finds her son at the DRC Red Cross headquarters in Goma three days after losing him at the May 22 eruption.
“Oh my child! A mother finds her son at the DRC Red Cross headquarters in Goma three days after losing him at the May 22 eruption. Trésor Boyongo Kaya / ICRC

The ICRC and RCDRC activities

The Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RCDRC) and ICRC teams are adapting their response in order to continue restoring family links, to support health centers in the most remote areas and to distribute food and hygiene kits to the most vulnerable.

Sixty-four Red Cross volunteers from the Provincial Committee of North Kivu were mobilized on Saturday evening to carry out victim assistance activities (distribution of water, first aid) and to restore family links.

Protection

  • With technical and logistical support from the ICRC, the RCDRC sends unaccompanied children to various reception centers and has set up three additional kiosks to collect family reunification requests and guide families.
  • The ICRC is supporting the Don Bosco center and the Margherite center, which since May 22 have accommodated hundreds of unaccompanied children.

Health

  • The ICRC is maintaining surgical activities at Ndosho hospital. It provides support there to ensure access to electricity and water, and supplies war surgery equipment and drugs, including a war surgery kit for 50 patients. The ICRC also donated two tents to secure the placement of patients out of buildings that are in danger of collapsing at any time.
  • The ICRC helped transfer the pharmacy from Virunga Hospital.
  • The RCDRC continues its health activities, in particular in three additional tents provided by the ICRC.

Access to water and shelter

  • The ICRC is strengthening the operation of pumping and water catchment stations in Goma with a fuel donation of nearly 12,000 liters over two weeks in support of the water company Regideso
  • RCDRC and ICRC tankers supply water to the affected areas.
  • The ICRC is boosting water and fuel supplies at Ndosho hospital for two weeks.
  • It is also strengthening the water supply system at Goma central prison.

 

Since the start of the humanitarian crisis linked to the May 22 volcanic eruption, the price of water has doubled. Due to lack of access to the distribution network, many residents of Goma have to buy water from distributors in the street.
Since the start of the humanitarian crisis linked to the May 22 volcanic eruption, the price of water has doubled. Due to lack of access to the distribution network, many residents of Goma have to buy water from distributors in the street. Dake Okendembo / ICRC

For more information, contact:

Halimatou Amadou, public relations officer, Dakar, +221 78 186 4687, hamadou@icrc.org

Carol Lumingu Kazadi, public relations officer, Dakar, +243 81 292 59 14, clumingukazadi@icrc.org

or visit our website: www.icrc.org

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