Nearly five months on since the Mount Nyiragongo volcano erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), destroying homes and farms, thousands of families are still living in limbo amid allegations of stolen aid resources.
More than 4,000 families are thought to be staying in collective centres and temporary sites, and an unknown number are with host families in Saké and the Nyiragongo territory, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
An estimated half a million people were initially displaced following the eruption, which destroyed 2,400 homes, saw an estimated 500 acres (206 hectares) of farmland and pasture lost to lava, and led to around 6,000 people losing their source of income, according to independent sources.
Contacts in Goma, at the foot of the volcano, told NewAfrica that the desperation was so immense and that some victims have attempted to kill themselves.
‘My brother nearly committed suicide because he couldn’t take this suffering anymore,’ one victim, going only by the name Antoine, said: ‘He and his family barely eat and they are sick and still homeless. I do help them from time to time with the small food and medicine that come my way.
‘The rainy season is already under us and we are worried the situation for these people is about to get worse. The government made good promises that it failed to keep. Where are the houses they promise to build for us?’
Pascal, an internally displaced person, said he was not surprised by the government’s failure to help its people when it matters the most.
‘We live in a country where everybody feels like an orphan. The government does not care about the people. They work for themselves and their families. The volcano victims are suffering but the government donates 500 luxury vehicles to members of parliament. It’s absurd and revolting.’
Above: Mount Nyiragongo ejecting lava.
Kelly Kulemfuka, spokesperson for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) in the DRC, told NewsAfrica that affected people live in schools and churches, as well as with host families or in makeshift tents, which offer little protection during the rainy season.
‘Conditions in temporary shelters are not sustainable,’ said Kulemfuka.
‘Residents of temporary settlements lack basic sanitation, water and livelihoods. Many sites are overcrowded and the spread of disease is a threat, especially waterborne diseases such as cholera.’
With such widespread suffering, there have been reports of women being forced into prostitution to survive.
A source in Goma confirmed the allegations of prostitution to NewsAfrica, saying that some women were providing sexual services to men outside the shelters in exchange for food, cash and clothes.
‘They don’t stand in street corners to do this job, but it’s some sort of a ‘civilised’ form of prostitution whereby they approach the men they know to conduct the business,’ the source said on condition of anonymity.
‘Desperation and poverty can make one resort to terrible things for survival. Local and international organisations are doing their best to help as much as they can, but I don’t think it’s enough. Much more needs to be done, especially on the government’s side.’
Kulemfuka said psychological relief was being provided to victims of the volcano, as well as educational talks on sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence.
Magali Roudaut, Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) head of mission in DRC, said though displaced people were being provided assistance, it was inadequate.
‘More clean water should be urgently provided, cholera is endemic in the area and poses a huge threat to people, including to the host communities,’ she added.
‘There are urgent needs that are still unmet such as food, latrines, blankets and jerrycans for water.’
Above: Men cross in front of the still smoking lava rocks from an eruption of the Mount Nyiragongo in May.
The humanitarian fallout from the explosion has been blamed on government agencies, widely criticised for not maintaining the early-warning equipment on Mount Nyiragongo.
‘They should have provided and equipped the observatory with adequate means to foresee the disaster to prevent this kind of misfortune,’ a human-rights activist told NewsAfrica.
‘The government is spending millions of dollars to purchase SUVs for MPs, while the observatory lacks almost everything to manage the dangers of the volcano.’
Meanwhile, as conditions at shelters for people displaced by the volcano continue to deteriorate, allegations of stolen funds have also surfaced.
Two members of local civil society group LUCHA are currently languishing behind bars for accusing the Denise Nyakeru Foundation of stealing aid intended for victims of the volcanic eruption.
The foundation, which belongs to the president’s wife, has dismissed the allegations as ‘false and unfounded’.
Its accusers face up to five years in prison on charges of ‘incitement to civil disobedience’ and ‘threats of attack’, according to their lawyers.