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DR Congo: Months after deadly eruption, victims are still stranded

DR Congo: Months after deadly eruption, victims are still stranded

More than three months after the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands are still living in makeshift shelters and crying out for government help.

“My house was consumed by the lava. I have seven children and no food. We are suffering terribly,” said Furaha Mawazo, whose family is among the 4,000 being temporarily housed at a school compound in Kayembe just north of Goma, the capital of the troubled North Kivu province.

The “homes” consist of tarpaulins salvaged by the residents and lashed together by families still traumatised by the events of May 22 when the volcano eruption destroyed their homes.

The shelters are tiny. Josephine Kakuru Mayani, a widow in her 50s, lives in a tiny space that she shares with her large family at night.

An estimated 400,000 of the 600,000 residents of Goma left the city after the one-day eruption of Nyiragongo, a strato-volcano nearly 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) tall that straddles the East African Rift tectonic divide.

More than a quarter went to Sake, about 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of Goma.

Over 30 people died from lava burns or asphyxiation, and in accidents during the panicked exodus from the eruption which destroyed hundreds of homes.

– ‘The needs are immense’ –

Ten days later, after the volcano was no longer deemed a threat, most of the displaced returned to their homes, the lava flow having halted miraculously in the suburbs of Goma.

While they were able to go back to their normal lives, others were not so lucky, finding their homes submerged under hardened lava and all their belongings lost.

Temporary shelters were built within a 10-kilometre (six-mile) radius of Goma, in Kayembe but also Bujovu, Bujara and Kanyaruchinya.

“I was happy to leave Sake,” said Kakuru Mayani, one of those who had been sent to the town after the eruption, then returned to Goma.

“I told myself that I was going to live well back in my town, despite all the dust that Nyiragongo left behind,” she recalls.

Now, however, she regrets coming the Goma suburb to live in the unhealthy camp and “in a house where I can’t even stand up”.

“We sleep on the ground and eat once every two days,” explained an exhausted Gakuru Shabani, who is in charge of “Block 4” of the Kayembe camp.

“We are urging the government and humanitarian organisations to come and help us”.

When those evacuated returned to Goma, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) group helped the authorities to cope, providing medical care and distributing water.

But Homam Shahhoud, MSF’s deputy head of mission in DR Congo says much more needs to be done.

“the needs are immense, starting with access to drinking water and decent hygiene conditions, which are essential to prevent water-borne diseases,” Shahhoud added.

– ‘Hogging the donations’ –

But, according to Josephine Kakuru Mayani, some of the families affected are outraged that “people who have not suffered in any way from the eruption are receiving humanitarian aid.

“Vouchers for food are sometimes given to the wrong people, while the people who really need them go without,” she said, adding that “police officers and soldiers are hogging the donations of disaster victims”.

President Felix Tshisekedi visited Goma in mid-June, declaring then that “the situation is certainly serious but it is under control”.

“I have come to console you and to see what you are going through,” he said to the displaced, adding that he had asked the military engineers to build houses and schools

Jules Kuzanganama, who has been put in charge of building proper shelters for the displaced said his team was working hard to provide everyone with a roof over their heads.

He spoke to AFP in Kanyaruchinya, three kilometres from Kayembe, where better equipped shelters made of sheet metal better equipped shelters, made of sheet metal and canvas has been built.

However last week some of the new shelters were destroyed by strong winds and heavy rain.

Of the thousand shelters constructed, 67 were ruined, said General Kuzanganama, though he remains optimistic.

“Our superiors have promised us the means to rebuild. In the next few days, the victims will be living there,” he promised.

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