On the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano on 22 May 2021

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

by Alain Wandimoyi, ICRC

cc On 22 May 2021, the Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active and dangerous volcanoes, erupted again in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is located in the middle of the famous Virunga National Park, the oldest nature reserve (conservation area) in Africa (UNESCO World Heritage Site), and at its centre is the largest lava lake in the world (250 x 270m). About 1.5 million people live in its vicinity. 20 kilometres south of Nyiragongo is Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. The last eruption of the Nyiragongo in 2002 killed 250 people and left 120 000 homeless. Even though people are now slowly returning and several aid organisations are working there, the humanitarian crisis remains: 30 dead, 232 000 people displaced, sexual abuse and exploitation rampant, cholera broke out. 3000 homes were destroyed, 1000 houses damaged. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, 15.6 million US dollars are needed, of which 5.2 million have been pledged so far (as of 4 June 2021). The ICRC media release is printed below.

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 mobilised to meet the most urgent needs in Goma and the surrounding area.

People flee danger once again

Even though the eruption of 22 May 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 (26/27 May), 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.
  “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,” says 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 22 May. 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.  •

Source: Media release of 28 May 2021; https://www.icrc.org/en/document/dr-congo-population-goma-flees-volcanos-menace-major-humanitarian-crisis-looms

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Source: Media release of 28 May 2021
https://www.icrc.org/en/document/ dr-congo-population-goma-flees-volcanos-menace-major-humanitarian-crisis-looms

The population could have been warned in time

ef. As early as March 2021, researchers at the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) had warned that there could be another eruption, Reuters reported.
  “If we don't take regular measurements and announce the eruption a few days in advance, the population will not have time to evacuate and people will die”, Honore Ciraba, one of the volcanologists, had told Reuters.


Until 2014, Switzerland and the EU had supported the observatory for many years with a total of 3.5 million euros.
  In April 2020, the World Bank’s four-year USD 2 million funding programme had not been renewed, on the grounds that the OVG “lacked experience and there were weaknesses in the implementation of such a grant”. They added that it could not verify the allegations of bribery.
  Since then, the volcanologists have had difficulty carrying out basic checks on a regular basis. Without support, they say, they are unable to pay for an internet connection to run remote sensors and for petrol to transport researchers to the volcano.

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