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Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) : Eruption of Nyiragongo volcano, Goma

22-01-2002 Operational Update



 General situation  

On Thursday 17 January 2002, at about 11h00 local time, the Nyiragongo volcano in North Kivu erupted. Lava flowed throughout the afternoon and evening; there were regular strong tr emors approximately every 5 minutes and a very strong smell of sulphur in Goma. Strong tremors occurred every 15 minutes throughout Friday night and lava continued to flow towards Goma. According to the local authorities, some 300,000 people took refuge in Gisenyi just over the border in Rwanda. In addition, approximately 50,000 inhabitants of Goma were stuck between two lava flows in the Mount Goma region in Goma. On Friday evening, more people left Goma for Gisenyi following an appeal on local radio to evacuate the city completely. Others fled westwards in the direction of Masisi or to Bukavu by boat, bus and lorry.

By 10h00 Saturday morning the tremors had stopped and the Congolese population in Rwanda began to return to Goma. According to OCHA, up to 18,000 people were returning to Goma every hour. At the time of writing approximately 50,000 remain in Rwanda, some 12,000 located in camps: 4,200 in Mudende, 6,200 in Nkamira and 3,400 in Ruhengeri. During Sunday night, however, another two powerful tremors shook the area and lava continues to flow. Experts have not ruled out further eruptions.

Much of the infrastructure has been completely destroyed. The airport is unusable at least for the time being - assessments are underway - and the port in Goma was destroyed by an explosion. Most of the water network was initially unable to function and the electricity network was also damaged.

In total, some 300 ICRC staff and families (including 7 expatriates, 32 ICRC local employees and their families) were evacuated to Gisenyi and were staying in the ICRC compound there before they were moved back to Goma or were transferred to Bukavu. The ICRC infrastructure destroyed in Goma includes two residences, one warehouse and the workshop garage with seven trucks.

There are approximately 50 other humanitarian agencies working in the affected area.

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 International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Response  

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working to address some of the most urgent humanitarian needs. The Goma delegation, now working out of Gisenyi, is concentrating on the situation in Goma, and the Kigali delegation is dealing with the needs of the refugees who have fled into neighbouring Rwanda. In the DRC, the ICRC maintains contact with other humanitarian agencies in Goma and is ready to coordinate once the situation becomes clearer. Teams are currently establishing the assistance needs in and around Goma. On the basis of these assessments, the ICRC will be in a better position to mobilize the goods needed from donors, including National Societies. In Rwanda, the ICRC participates in coordination meetings run by OCHA in Kigali and Gisenyi, and is also in regular contact with the Rwandan authorities.

As many of Goma's inhabitants have begun returning to the city from Rwanda, the ICRC is focusing its immediate attention on the need for safe drinking water and functioning medical structures there. In this emergency phase, the ICRC is also working in close collaboration with the other ICRC delegations in the region (especially the Nairobi regional delegation). ICRC operations have been complicated by the destruction of its warehouse in Goma, wh ich contained goods worth an estimated one million Swiss francs. The organization, however, has access to substantial logistical back-up facilities in Kigali and Nairobi.

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 Democratic Republic of the Congo  


 Water and Sanitation  

Since Saturday evening, the ICRC has been supplying chlorine tablets and jerrycans to a local Congolese NGO, Amis Kivu , to enable them to purify water from Lake Kivu before distributing it to the population at 17 distribution points. An announcement was made on local radio to inform the population how they too may obtain these tablets. Furthermore, ICRC engineers are working with the local water company, Regideso, to rehabilitate the main pumping station in Goma. The ICRC has been working with the Regideso in Goma and other cities in eastern DRC for a number of years, providing chemicals for water treatment and spare parts, and is ready to provide the station with fuel and chlorine to enable it to begin functioning again. Two of the three water treatment plants are in principle still operational and the ICRC has begun providing the Regideso with pipes to begin repairing the damaged water distribution system. An analysis of the water was undertaken to ascertain the water quality and the likelihood of an outbreak of waterborne disease such as cholera. Initial indications show that the water is for the moment safe to drink. Four truckloads of water and sanitation material have been already sent from Nairobi to Gisenyi and the ICRC has set up several bladders in the city. The ICRC has begun watertrucking and from now on has the capacity to provide 60,000 litres of water per day.

 Medical facilities  

Since Sunday, ICRC delegates have been evaluating the state of medical facilities in Goma. An initial provision of assistance in terms of chlorine, jerrycans and fuel for the generator has been provided for the General Hospital which was left largely undamaged by the lava flows. Hospital staff have reported for work and the facility is in working order. The Charité maternelle hospital is reachable and is being supplied with water. An ICRC team inspecting an area east of Goma airport found that one health centre there was still functional. No emergency cases were admitted at the beginning of the eruption but now several patients are being admitted with burns to their feet after crossing lava flows. More burn victims needed treatment following an explosion at a fuel depot in Goma in which 50 people were killed. The ICRC has supplied first-aid materials - dressings and medical kits - for burn victims.


The ICRC office in Bukavu working with the local DRC Red Cross Society has assisted about 250 families who arrived in the city after fleeing Goma. The ICRC assisted the National Society in organizing a welcome centre. A building has been provided by the authorities in Bukavu and the construction of latrines is in progress. National Society volunteers are manning the kitchens using ICRC stocks. For the time being, ICRC resources and stocks in Bukavu are adequate for the number of IDPs.


As the population of Goma continues to move in several directions, family members become separated from one another. The work of the tracing service is, therefore, to be given special attention. An increase in the number of unaccompanied children registered is expected. To the east of Goma, the ICRC is helping the DRC Red Cross Society set up welcome centres for unaccompanied children and there have been announcements about this service on the radio. Some 34 children from a local transit centre for unaccompanied minors waiting to be reunited with their families have been found in Ruhengeri in Rwanda. They have been registered again and transferred to Kigali.


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On the Rwandan side of the border, the ICRC is working closely with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (FED), with the German (GRCS), Belgian (BRCS), French (FRCS) and Spanish (SRCS) Red Cross Societies, and with the Rwan dan Red Cross Society (RRCS) which has only a limited number of volunteers on hand.

The ICRC is also providing non-food items (blankets, jerrycans, kitchen sets and soap) along with CARE and local NGOs. Food needs are being covered by the World Food Programme (WFP), and medical needs by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF. Although current estimates place the number of Congolese in Rwanda at 50,000, the ICRC is ready to cover the needs of up to 100,000 people.

On 20 January 2002, the breakdown of Movement resources is as follows:




 Previously in stock  

 or already delivered  

 Available within 10 days  


 2,500 BRCS

 2,900 FRCS

 1,500 ICRC

 12,000 GRCS

50,000 FED

 20,000 SRCS


 2,000 FRCS

 6,400 ICRC

40,000 ICRC

Plastic sheeting rolls


 20 FRCS

 10 ICRC


Pieces of sheeting


13,000 FED

 3,000 GRCS

 2,000 FRCS


 250 BRCS

 42 FRCS

 1,000 SRCS

Kitchen sets

 770 ICRC

 3,000 pots ICRC

 500 SRCS

Soap bars

112,500 ICRC


Second-hand clothes

 1,200 RRCS


Purification tablets

700,000 ICRC


Purification stations




First-aid kits

 50 RRCS


WHO kits

(10,000 people/3 months)




In Rwanda, as in the DRC, the ICRC is concentrating on the provision of clean drinking water. Three water tankers with a combined load of 34,000 litres of water left Kigali for Ruhengeri. Water treatment equipment, capable of processing 10m3 per hour, has been set up. The equipment includes pumps, six bladders, tools, distribution ramps and jerrycans. The 50,000 Congolese who remain in Rwanda are mainly to be found in the camps of Nkamira and Mudende (Gisenyi area). Water distributions are being carried out by the ICRC in these camps. A bladder has been set up in Nkamira and an ICRC tanker filled in Mudende.

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 Ongoing activities in the DRC and Rwanda  

Outside the disaster area , activities in the rest of the DRC and in Rwanda continue according to objective. The destruction of warehouse stocks will undoubtedly have some impact in the east but all operations are ongoing. Activities in western DRC are not affected.

In the DRC, the ICRC focuses its activities on:

  • rapid assistance to vulnerable groups affected by the conflict to ensure their survival, while promoting their self-sufficiency

  • support to the authorities in providing adequate health care for the war-wounded and the civilian population

  • protection activities for different categories of people who have been deprived of their freedom, including prisoners of war, people detained in connection with the conflict and civilian internees

  • the re-establishment of contact between separated family members

  • the development of the National Society.

In Rwanda too, existing operations continue alongside current activities in Nkamira and Mudende camps.

In Rwanda, the ICRC focuses its activities on:

  • detainees held in prisons and communal lock-ups ( cachots )

  • unaccompanied children seeking their families after being separated from them either in 1994 or during the mass repatriations in 1996/1997

  • vulnerable genocide survivors and victims of internal conflict (predominantly widows and orphans) in need of assistance to rebuild their lives

  • resident populations whose local water networks remain damaged from the time of the genocide

  • people temporarily displaced for reasons of security.

 For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.