The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is facing criticism over a growing humanitarian crisis in the east of the country as thousands of people who fled Goma after a volcanic eruption lack shelter, food, and drinking water.
Mount Nyiragongo erupted on May 22, sending lava streaming down a hillside, which left a trail of destruction and killed dozens of people.
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Nearly 400,000 people in Goma, the capital of North-Kivu province in the eastern DRC, have had to flee.
While many fled to Rutshuru in the north, and Minova in South-Kivu province, up to a quarter of them headed to Sake, about 30km (18 miles) to the northwest.
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) told the AFP news agency that between 100,000 and 180,000 people had taken refuge in Sake, adding to the area’s 70,000 population, and said cholera was a risk as the area struggled to absorb the impact.
Many who sought refuge in the town of Sake complained of a lack of state support and said they wanted to return home – even if it remained dangerous amid ongoing earthquakes and the risk of more eruptions.
“Life is not easy here. I have been sick for two days, I have no one to express my pain to, let them bring me back to my city,” Claudine Sinziyimana, a widow who fled the volcanic eruption, told Al Jazeera.
“Better to die with the gas from the volcano than to die with famine here in [the town of] Sake,” she added.
President Felix Tshisekedi said on Saturday the situation in Goma is “serious but under control”.
He advised those who fled them not to return yet, after a week of rolling aftershocks.
“There is an underground lava flow that can arise anytime anywhere in the city,” Tshisekedi warned.
“The lava is no longer in the crater, but the volcano remains active, so we have to be wary and that’s why we don’t want to rush things by bringing back the populations,” he said.
A report by the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) on Saturday said 61 earthquakes had shaken the area in the previous 24 hours.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said after the eruption that more than 4,500 homes were destroyed by lava, affecting some 20,000 people.
While many of the displaced in Sake are staying in places of worship and community centres, many lack any kind of shelter at all.
“Our house was burnt by the volcano. We lost our business because of the volcano too. We are spending the night in a 19-person house with other displaced people,” Clarice Matofali said.
“We are asphyxiated [feeling suffocated] because of a large number in a small house. If the government can’t give us food, at least give us a place to sleep here,” she added.
MSF said they have deployed to address a water shortage, bringing in supplies and distributing water by tanker truck, but that more is required and cited food, shelter and medicine as other primary needs.
“This crisis demands assistance and an immediate intervention,” Magali Roudaut, head of MSF’s Goma-based mission in DRC, told AFP.
The army has said help is on its way to the region. But many displaced people question why they have not yet received any government support a week after the eruption.
“Since we left Goma, we have no help. We are eating with difficulty. The special meal here is porridge. Our children are going to die of hunger,” said Kabugho Malimingi.
“I have seven children, two of whom already have diarrhoea because of the bad water in this village. Let the government help us. Either give us food or make us go back home,” she said.
International aid organisations are already heavily present in Goma, which has been wracked by 30 years of violence by scores of armed groups, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that ran from 1996 to 2003.
Adding to the trials of the displaced, hundreds of children were separated from their parents in the exodus – a situation humanitarian organisations are hurrying to address.
Additional reporting by Esdras Tsongo in Sake.