Mount Nyiragongo: Thousands flee DR Congo city of Goma after volcano erupts

24 May 2021

Two people walking, surrounded by smoke. One is carrying a sack and offering a hand to the other.

Caritas Goma has started emergency assessments, to identity what the needs are for families who have been affected. Photo credit: Boniface Kusinza Mongane

Thousands of people fled the city of Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Saturday 22 May as Mount Nyiragongo erupted. 

The lava flow moved towards Goma airport, six miles outside of the city, but the city avoided major damage from the river of boiling lava as it came to halt on the outskirts of Goma on Sunday.

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Bernard Balibuno, CAFOD's country representative in DR Congo, said: 

“Thousands of people were on the move on Saturday evening, seeking safety and shelter from the lava. Some families crossed the nearby border into neighbouring Rwanda.

“This time the city was spared, from the molten lava, but some homes and property on the outskirts of Goma have been destroyed, and the main water and electrical supplies have been cut off."

“The danger from Nyiragongo can never be eliminated, but preparedness is the key to saving lives.”

Bernard Balibuno, CAFOD's country representative in DR Congo

What has the response been so far?

Caritas Goma has started emergency assessments, to identity what the needs are for families who have been affected.

Over half a million people in the city of Goma and the surrounding areas have been left without access to safe drinking water and the threat of cholera is a real issue. CAFOD has already pledged £50,000 to provide access to safe drinking water for those affected by the recent eruption, as well as information-sharing on prevention of water-borne diseases.

Balibuno continued: 

“The danger from Nyiragongo can never be eliminated, but preparedness is the key to saving lives.”

Has Mount Nyiragongo erupted before?

Mount Nyiragongo has been active for the best part of a century. In 1977 an eruption killed hundreds of people in surrounding villages, and on 17 January 2002 a river of lava rushed through the city of Goma at speeds approaching 40 miles an hour, killing 250 people, sending 200,000 people fleeing for their lives, and leaving 120,000 homeless.

Through funding from the Start Network, in 2018 CAFOD and Christian Aid supported work with the local disaster prevention and management authority on analysing the risk of future volcanic eruptions.

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