Nyiragongo Volcano: Calm in Goma, government defends its administration

After an evacuation chaos was ordered Thursday, faced with the risk of an eruption of Nyiragongo volcano, the city of Goma, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), established a semblance of normalcy on Saturday, the government defending its crisis management faced criticism.

Started on Friday, the decline in tremors, frequency and intensity, continued to be observed overnight from Friday to Saturday in Goma.

With a soft rumble, the floors and walls of the houses continued to shake, but at longer intervals. Maybe once an hour or so, while at its peak two days ago earthquakes followed on average every ten minutes, causing psychosis and panic in the population.

Measurements, broadcast almost in real time on Twitter, from a seismic monitor in Rwanda (RSM), a scientific body in neighboring Rwanda that monitors these earthquakes, confirm this decline, earthquakes that mostly revolved around 2 to 3 degrees.

Almost emptied of its inhabitants, Goma was especially calm at the beginning of the weekend. The main boulevards in the city center are not very busy. There are still several vehicles, minibuses, cars and motorcyclists. On the other hand, large white SUVs with the logo of NGOs, usually ubiquitous, have completely disappeared from traffic.

– 400,000 displaced –

Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira Volcanoes (AFP – Patricio ARANA)

Children in rags hang out here and there in clusters. The vast majority of shops remain closed, with a few more modest shops open to observers here and there, with sound systems already spitting out Congolese rumba to the top of the lungs. In many ways, the vibe is similar to an everyday and casual Sunday morning.

For the first time since the May 22 eruption, the weather is very nice, and only the top of Nyiragonga, on the horizon north of the city, is drowned in fog.

Several hundred thousand people fled the city on Thursday, in panic and in the biggest riot, following a “preventive” evacuation order launched by authorities at dawn on Thursday.

Nearly 400,000 people are currently displaced in the neighboring province of South Kivu, the neighboring region of Masisi and further north, the government said. Several thousand people also found refuge in Rwanda.

Congolese cross the border with Rwanda on May 28, 2021 in Goma (AFP - ALEXIS HUGUET)

Congolese cross the border with Rwanda on May 28, 2021 in Goma (AFP – ALEXIS HUGUET)

During the Council of Ministers held in Kinshasa on Friday, President Félix Tshisekedi called on the government to “redouble its efforts to better take responsibility for the humanitarian situation”.

“By our ability to face such challenges, people will judge the effectiveness of our action,” he said, as critics hint at several visible results of the efforts the government has promised for a week.

– “Without help” –

After the eruption on May 22, the government sent a large ministerial delegation to Gom. Work has been undertaken on a road north of the city, an important regional road, cut by a kilometer of lava flow, as well as on the reconstruction of a high-voltage line, also cut by lava.

International humanitarian organizations, including the UN and ICRC, have mobilized on the key issue of drinking water, emergency relief for displaced persons, and the plight of separated children.

But evacuation terms, which were abruptly decided on Thursday, revived criticism, while the government promised “funds” to help residents leave and support the displaced.

In the hustle, bustle and traffic jam of this sudden exodus, many people were appalled that they were left to fend for themselves, abandoned, not knowing where to go or sleep, despite the promises of the authorities. We know that.

“The state has decided to evacuate the population of #Goma and #Nyiragongo without any help,” the activist collective Lucha sharply criticized on Twitter.

Vehicles circling chilled lava in Goma on May 28, 2021 (AFP - ALEXIS HUGUET)

Vehicles circling chilled lava in Goma on May 28, 2021 (AFP – ALEXIS HUGUET)

During the Council of Ministers, Prime Minister Sam Lukonde “wanted to remind himself” that the Nyiragonga eruption has no point of resemblance to the previous eruption because it happened without any signs of a precursor. “What justifies our decision (…) to evacuate the population to areas that are not exposed,” he defended, noting the rehabilitation “in record time” of a section of road at the exit north of Goma.

The government is now facing a major humanitarian crisis, once again in a region ravaged by violence by armed groups for three decades. The issue of access to drinking water, with the associated risks of epidemics, is particularly urgent, according to the UN, ICRC and NGOs.

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