The Democratic Republic of the Congo will start a phased return of residents who fled Goma in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption that destroyed thousands of homes and threatened to overrun the city, the government has said.
Less than a week after the initial eruption on May 22, which just stopped short of the city limits, some 400,000 people scrambled to leave when the government warned underground tremors could cause a new eruption, or trigger the release of toxic gases.
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The tremors have since subsided, and many people have returned to Goma. The city lies on the shores of Lake Kivu, about 12km (7.5 miles) from Mount Nyiragongo, Africa’s most active volcano.
“Today, we decided on the progressive return of displaced people in line with a plan which will be issued by the military governor,” Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lunkonde told a news conference in Goma on Monday.
“Compared with two weeks ago, the situation in terms of seismic activity has improved. We now able to contemplate the future with less worry,” he added.
Lukonde told journalists that sites on the outskirts of Goma that were destroyed by the eruption could no longer be inhabited.
“We must learn from the 2002 and 2021 eruptions so that our populations are never again so close to danger,” he said.
About 245,000 remain displaced in nearby towns and villages, according to the latest survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The government said it would provide buses and trucks beginning on Tuesday to help people return.
Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, had last erupted in 2002, killing more than 200 people and sending lava gushing through Goma. Last month’s eruption killed at least 31.
Nyiragongo’s deadliest eruption, in 1977, killed more than 600 people.
On Saturday, the government reopened Goma’s airport, which is eastern DRC’s main hub for delivering aid to the strife-torn region.
People made homeless by the eruption would be temporarily rehoused and given assistance to rebuild, the government said in a statement.