(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Volcanic activity "threatens Goma"

[DRC] Goma volcano

Recent volcanic activity in the Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira peaks in North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has triggered fears that the 600,000 people in Goma could be under threat, according to specialists.

Dieudonne Wafula, head of Goma’s Volcanological Observatory, told IRIN on 7 May that the two volcanoes had shown early warnings of eruption.

"The volcanoes could erupt any time; it could be in two days, or a week or two but not later than two months from now," Wafula said, adding that the most at-risk areas were villages east of Nyamulagira.

Wafula added that Goma, the provincial capital, could also be under threat if Nyiragongo erupts. However, he said, the lava levels in Nyiragongo were low and would not be expected to cause extensive damage to the city, whose population has been swelling in the past few years, fuelled mainly by the mineral trade as well as renewed fighting in rural areas of North Kivu.

Mt Nyiragongo last erupted in 2002, spilling lava into Goma and displacing at least 400,000 people. Infrastructure worth millions of dollars was also destroyed.

An estimated two million people who live around Lake Kivu, which straddles the DRC and Rwanda, are also at risk of pollution from the airborne ash, which is usually triggered by a volcanic eruption. Wafula said this was likely to contaminate drinking water, poison livestock and disrupt air traffic.

According to the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), there is a mass of methane gas under the base of Lake Kivu and a volcanic eruption could release a lethal cloud of carbon dioxide from the lake, which could be disastrous for surrounding communities.

Gas power

Rwanda has on several occasions tried to extract the gas to neutralise the “killer lake”.

In March, Rwanda signed a US$325 million agreement with the US-based energy firm Contour Global to extract the gas and generate up to 100 megawatts of power for itself as well as neighbouring countries.

According to Wafula, the Goma Observatory has already informed aid agencies to prepare for possible evacuation and to provide assistance for people likely to be affected.

Zebe Kitabingo, head of the local chapter of the Congolese Red Cross, said in a statement in April that volunteers were on alert to help the population.

However, according to Wafula, no evacuation has so far taken place.

Cheikh Diouf, the UN security adviser in the region, could not give an immediate comment on the possible volcanic eruption.


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