DRC: Volcano leaves families struggling for essentials

14 Jun 2021

More than three weeks after the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in and around the city of Goma, in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The tremors and aftershocks that followed caused widespread fear and threatened new disasters, prompting a mass evacuation.

More than 200,000 people are still on the move, and in desperate need of essentials like clean water, food, and shelter. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has scaled up  support is currently providing humanitarian assistance in Goma, Sake, and Rutshuru—but more humanitarian aid is still urgently needed.


Dieudonné Bizimungu with his children next to their house in Goma. © Moses Sawasawa 

Following the displacement in the wake of the eruption, the first official return of people to their homes around Mount Nyiragnongo took place on 8 June. The DRC government is facilitating this gradual return of displaced people and is hopes to complete this by the end of the month. Of the 400,000 people who fled the city of Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, in the aftermath of the eruption, over half are still displaced. This includes 60,000 people in Kirotshe health zone and 77,000 people in Rutshuru, 60 kilometres north of Goma. 

“Most of us fled with nothing, without money,” says Magene David, one of the displaced people who went to Sake in search of shelter. “MSF provides us water, and this helps us, but we have nothing to eat. We sleep outdoors, in the cold, with no blankets.”

In Kirotshe and Rutshuru, many people have not been able to find shelter in the host communities and are living in makeshifts settlements or in public buildings like schools, churches, and mosques. Those who cannot find any shelter at all are sleeping in the open air. Access to sanitation remains an issue, as the volcanic ground makes it difficult to create clean and functional latrines. 

"Night and day, we continue to feel the heat of the lava. We don’t know where to go to escape this new danger."

Dieudonné Bizimungu
Father and Goma resident

MSF scales up response across North and South Kivu provinces

To help those displaced by the volcano access essential services, MSF teams are responding in multiple places across North and South Kivu provinces, including Kirotshe health zone, Rutshuru, Sake, and around Goma. We are improving water and sanitation facilities in places where displaced people have settled, building latrines, handwashing points and showers.

Sake, 25 kilometres from Goma, now hosts an estimated 36,000 displaced people, putting additional pressure not only on the local health facilities, but also on the water supply. MSF teams are providing free basic medical care at Sake health centre, referring more complex cases to the general hospital in Kirotshe. In five days, the medical teams have carried out more than 1,500 consultations. We’re also providing clean water and a total stock capacity of 180,000 litres has been installed; three trucks make eight to ten trips per day, each to keep the water supply bladders filled.

We are also providing medical care and improving access to healthcare for people across the two provinces in which we’re working. Our teams are supporting Rutshuru Hospital and the health facilities in the surrounding area. By providing medical care, malnutrition screening and referring more complicated cases to the Hospital. MSF is also improving the access to water and sanitation in these facilities and is building tents to accommodate mobile clinics in the most crowded areas.

In Goma and surrounding areas, our teams are providing free basic healthcare consultations and medicine and hygiene products to those displaced by the disaster. MSF medical teams are also reinforcing cholera surveillance and monitoring systems in four health centres in the city where we are already supporting cholera-related activities in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.


Johnson carries a jerrycan of clean water to the family home, which he protects from looting in his parents' absence. "As far as I’m concerned, the situation is okay, I can find water nearby. Maybe I would say that it is not easy for others because I still see people running with jerrycans looking for water.” © Moses Sawasawa 

There are some 200 children living on the streets of Goma who are supported by MSF who are receiving food, water and sanitation items. Through supported health centres in Goma, we’re also ensuring people living with HIV have access to vitally needed supplies of antiretroviral medications.

On the now re-opened road between Goma and Rutshuru, MSF is working with existing clinics and has set up an additional consultation point in Kibumba. Located around six kilometres from the lava flow, teams have conducted some 170 consultations between 29 and 31 May. We will also provide water to Kibumba health centre and hospital, situated three kilometres from the main road, where some displaced people are being hosted. 

More than 90 MSF health promotion staff are also supporting the emergency intervention in Sake, identifying sick people and directing them to the health centre, as well as providing information about hygiene, COVID-19, and cholera. Knowing that cholera is an endemic disease in Sake, one of MSF's first concerns was to provide safe drinking water. With the city overcrowded with newcomers, the limited water supply was not enough to meet the needs of thousands of people. In the first four days of work in Sake, MSF distributed 243,000 liters (over 640,000 gallons) of water to local communities and displaced people. We also built latrines and increased the number of chlorine distribution points. Promoting good hygiene measures helps prevent the spread of waterborne diseases.

“We must act immediately, or this humanitarian crisis will deteriorate further. The displaced people need more than what we can provide: they need food, temporary shelter, hygiene kits, water and healthcare.”   

Marc Dolade Serra
Head of Mission, DRC

Displaced people sleep in churches, schools, or the homes of local families, while others bed down outside. Many residents say they have hardly eaten in the past few days. Aid groups warn of a possible cholera outbreak.

“We must act immediately, or this humanitarian crisis will deteriorate further,” said Marc Dolade Serra, MSF head of mission in DRC. “The displaced people need more than what we can provide: they need food, temporary shelter, hygiene kits, water and healthcare.”