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IP/02/94

Brussels, 20 January 2002

Commission provides Euro 5 million of aid to help populations affected by eruption of volcano "Nyiragongo » in eastern Congo

Following a first needs assessment of the situation in the region of the explosion, the European Commission will immediately make €5 million available to cover the emergency needs of 100,000 people, one third of the population affected by the eruption, together with support for co-ordination and logistics. This assistance will be channelled through UN, Red Cross and non-governmental implementing partners. Immediate needs concern water and sanitation; shelter and essential relief items; emergency food rations and the provision of essential drugs. Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson said : "With populations still on the move, our immediate priority is to provide rapid and flexible emergency assistance. Working with our partners, this decision means that people will get the food, water, shelter and medicine they so desperately need. We stand by to give further support and assistance as a long term partner to the Congolese people."

In line with the initial assessment conducted by the Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) with UN and other partners, this assistance will focus on the following key sectors:

Water and sanitation: provision of safe water and prevention of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera ;

Shelter and essential relief items: distribution of portable family kits comprising such items as plastic sheeting and blankets ;

Emergency food rations: provision of high-energy, protein-rich biscuits in the days following the disaster, pending the organisation of a bulk food distributions ;

Health: provision of essential drugs for the treatment of common diseases such as malaria.

A four-man team of experts from ECHO was on the ground within 24 hours of the disaster, and evaluated the situation in collaboration with humanitarian agencies and a UN disaster assessment team flown in by ECHOFLIGHT, the Commission's humanitarian air service based in Nairobi.

This emergency package is provided in addition to the substantial aid programme already funded by the Commission in this part of DRC (EUR 35,000,000 in 2001, EUR 32,000,000 in 2002), primarily in the field of healthcare, nutrition and food security.

ECHO will maintain a significant field presence in the coming weeks to assess the need for further assistance with resettlement and emergency rehabilitation.

Background

On the morning of Thursday 17 January 2002 the volcano Nyiragongo, situated to the north of the town of Goma, erupted. Goma, which lies on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, is the capital town of the province of North Kivu, with a population estimated at 300,000. Lava flows ignited shanty dwellings in the northern outskirts of Goma during the afternoon of 17 January, and in the early evening began to directly threaten the town of Goma.

Initial estimates mercifully put casualties at 50 or fewer, but virtually the entire population of Goma and the villages between the town and the volcano evacuated on foot during the afternoon of 17 January. Large numbers of people crossed the border into Rwanda, moving eastwards along the road between Gisenyi and Ruhengeri, while a further contingent fled west, towards the Congolese town of Sake, and thence southwards in the direction of Bukavu.

Teams of vulcanologists are currently arriving in the region to assess the status of the volcano and the possibility of further seismic activity. Much of the centre of Goma town and essential infrastructure has been destroyed, but the lava flow has slowed at the time of writing. While the danger of gas emissions and the possibility of further eruptions cannot be discounted, many of the displaced are already making their way back to Goma.


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