DRC: Four months since Nyiragongo eruption, victims plea for help

IDPs decry dire living conditions including lack of food at makeshift camp months after volcanic eruption in eastern DRC.

Chantal Malinga, 70, cares for her sick daughter in the Kayembe IDP camp [Esdras Tsongo/Al Jazeera]

Kayembe, DRC – Benedicte Chibalonza was working as a teacher until late May, when Mount Nyiragongo in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) erupted, sending torrents of lava down a hillside and people running for their lives.

“Our school was washed away by the lava,” said the widowed mother of 10. “Now, I have no job. It’s misery and the family eats once every two days.”

Chibalonza is one of the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) who continue to live in makeshift camps more than four months after Mount Nyiragongo came to life on May 22.

Congolese authorities built temporary shelters in Goma, Bujovu, Bujara, Kanyaruchinya and Kayembe following the eruption that killed more than 30 people and caused widespread destruction.

Kayembe disaster site hosting more than 7,000 families (4)

Currently, more than 7,000 households displaced by the disaster are housed in Kayembe, about three kilometres (1.9 miles) outside Goma, the capital of North Kivu province. Many of them were relocated from the village of Sake, where they were living with host families.

“When the government told me to leave Sake, it was a deep joy,” Chibalonza, an IDP in Kayembe, told Al Jazeera. “But unfortunately, a few days later, the government failed to take care of us even though it was the government that told us to leave our places of refuge. This hurts me a lot.”

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said the eruption has made an already precarious humanitarian situation in the unrest-hit region worse. Eastern DRC has experienced decades of violence, with some 120 armed groups operating throughout the resource-rich region.

“The needs are many here, but we are doing what we can,” Jackie Keegan, head of UNHCR’s sub-delegation in Goma, told Al Jazeera.

“The displacement caused by the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption has worsened the already difficult lives of local communities in Masisi and Rutshuru territories, which are already hosting thousands of displaced people who have fled their homes due to the conflict. We are monitoring the protection needs and risks of those affected.”

UNHCR said it is paying the rent of more than 1,300 families who have found accommodation in Goma. The agency is also promising to build at least 1,000 homes for the displaced people in the area – but that might not be enough for some.

“Let the government come to our aid. We are going to die in this disaster camp,” Zababu Mudumbi, a 35-year-old mother of five in Kayembe camp, told Al Jazeera.

Zabibu Mudumbi sitting between 3 women in a room where the disaster victims spend the night in case of rain [Esdras Tsongo]

Raising awareness

The situation in the camps is dire, with aid groups worried about the outbreak of diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea.

“We are organising two interactive programmes to raise awareness of disease prevention and risk management in the disaster camps,” Eddy Yamwenziyo, humanitarian emergency coordinator for the CARITAS charity in Goma, told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups, such Eleza DRC, have also launched awareness-raising campaigns to pressure authorities to act.

“We are taking videos to help women and children affected by the disaster to show to donors as the situation deteriorates,” said Fidele Kitsa, deputy coordinator of Eleza DRC in Goma, told Al Jazeera.

Shukrani Chizungu  sitting with two small sons in Kayembe disaster camp [Esdras Tsongo/Al Jazeera]

Some of the displaced Al Jazeera spoke to accused those in charge of the camps of stealing the supplies.

“We have received donations. But they were all stolen by the people in charge of this camp,” cried Shukrani Chizungu, a disabled 70-year-old at camp.

Added Mudumbi, “Sometimes, we are helped, but the camp managers steal and we can go nights without food.”

But Katembo Syauswa, head of Kayembe camp, said they were doing the best they can.

“We are receiving insufficient food. We have difficulty distributing it because there are so many victims. It is true that some food was stolen. But we promise to punish the culprits,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chibalonza and her children are preparing for another tough night at their shelter in Kayembe built with tarpaulins and tree branches.

“I don’t have a mattress,” she said. “My family is suffering in this IDP camp.”

Source: Al Jazeera