On Saturday evening, May 22, DR Congo’s Mount Nyiragongo erupted, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings in the district of Goma and sending thousands of people fleeing. Subsequent tremors have caused further destruction, displacing more Congolese families.
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The situation is evolving quickly, as a partial evacuation of Goma was ordered on Thursday. People are relocating to neighboring towns and villages or crossing over into Rwanda. 700 Congolese refugees had arrived in Rwanda as of Wednesday. As of 11am Thursday, there were already 6,000 more! Families have gathered and are sheltering at a settlement in Rwanda’s Rubavu District. Having brought very little with them, the rainy season and cool climate is making conditions cold, wet and uncomfortable.
Tremors continue daily, sending buildings swaying in Rwanda’s capital Kigali – 4 hours away! The situation is still developing. Our team has worked in the region for more than 20 years and is prepared to deliver whatever help is needed. Donate now to support our response.
Alight’s Response in Rwanda
Alight is responding in Rubavu. “Our team is focused on priorities like making sure everyone has access to daily essentials, a bathroom, things like that” said Alight’s Rwanda Country Director Bernad Ojwang. “Clean water is particularly tricky at the moment, because the district water system was impacted by the tremors. But we’re working to make sure everyone has enough water for all their daily needs.” Alight’s Rwanda team is working hand-in-hand with Rwandan authorities, Alight is extending an existing water pipeline in order to reach and serve evacuated Congolese families. We’re also installing handwashing and hygiene facilities and supplying plenty of soap.
One of the toughest things in a disaster like this is the effect to people’s mental health. Alight’s protection teams are working on it. They’re establishing child-friendly spaces where children can play and take their minds off of the situation. We’re also starting up protection desks where adults can get access to support, counsel and guidance in a moment when they’re feeling vulnerable or may have suffered trauma. If we can’t help, we help them find the person who can.
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Rubavu has a cool climate, and with the rainy season in full swing it’s quite cold at night. We’re working to make sure families – especially kids under 5 – have blankets and mattresses to sleep on and keep them warm.
Of course, this disaster is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, so we’re conducting awareness and prevention activities and providing plenty of hand sanitizer and prevention supplies.
Eastern Congo Initiative Responding in Congo
Alight’s affiliate partner Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) is also responding inside DRC. After Goma’s evacuation order on Thursday, families have been scrambling to find a safe place (Goma proper has a population of 670,000 people!). They’ve found safe haven in neighboring towns and villages, but those communities don’t have the capability to support such an influx.
In normal times, ECI supports and amplifies the changemaking efforts of local, grassroots Congolese organizations. And they’re doing the same in this emergency, getting behind their partners’ efforts to support families who’ve been impacted or evacuated by the disaster. One ECI partner is establishing and equipping pop-up health clinics in these host communities, so that people can get care if they need it during the emergency.
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Regional Impact of the Emergency
The impact of the eruption and tremors is being felt outside DR Congo. In Rwanda, 400+ buildings and homes have been destroyed and condemned. Hundreds of Rwandan families have also been left homeless by this disaster. Rwandan water systems have been impacted and some roads cut off, hampering response efforts.