Catholic Bishop in DRC Appeals for Humanitarian Aid for Displaced amid Volcanic Eruptions

Thousands evacuated from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo following threats of another volcanic eruption. Credit: Nelson Mantama

Humanitarian assistance is being sought for the hundreds of thousands displaced persons after the volcanic eruptions from Mount Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) forced residents of the Eastern city of Goma to flee “in all directions.”

“We call on the government, members of the international community and people of goodwill to support our people moving in all directions as a result of threats of another eruption,” Bishop Willy Ngumbi Ngengele of the Catholic Diocese of Goma in DRC told journalists Saturday, May 29.

The first volcanic eruption on May 22 reportedly resulted in the death of 30 people. On May 27, authorities in Goma in North Kivu Province ordered nearly a third of the city's residents to evacuate areas that are at risk of further eruptions explaining that magma had been detected underneath Goma and nearby Lake Kivu, BBC News reported.

“Right now, we can't rule out an eruption on land or under the lake,” the military governor of North Kivu Province, Ndima Kongba has been quoted as saying, adding, “It is very important to stay away from the lava flows, because of the danger of death from suffocation or burns.”

Addressing journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of the Catholic Bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bukavu, Bishop Ngumbi of Goma Diocese said the authorities’ evacuation announcement “created panic among the population with people fleeing in all directions for safety.”


Speaking to ACI Africa about the situation on the ground, Nelson Mantama, the officer in charge of communications at the Catholic Youth Centre of Goma Diocese said that Thursday, May 27 was a very difficult day for residents of Goma.

“We woke up to an announcement from the governor directing the population to evacuate the city,” he said, and added, “We saw hundreds of thousands of people going in different directions. Some of them went to Rwanda through the Great Barrier. Others took the way to Bukavu through the lake while others took the direction of Sake in the territory of North Kivu.”

Mr. Mantama said it was not easy on the population because the residents left their homes under tension. 

“The information reached us at 1 a.m. and already at 4 a.m., we saw thousands of people rushing to leave the town. This situation caused a lot of traffic jams and a lot of stress, a lot of missing children,” the Catholic youth leader told ACI Africa May 29. 

Alongside other youth, he said, they mobilized vehicles to transport the vulnerable people to safety.

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“Personally, I was there with a car moving around. I went back and forth to the border with Rwanda. I also accompanied some people to the Lakeside to head for Bukavu,” he shared with ACI Africa.

There is a serious humanitarian crisis building up in the camps and cities receiving the displaced people, Mr. Mantama said and explained, “There is a lack of water. There were hardly any sanitary facilities installed to enable these people to relieve themselves easily. There was no food to eat as prices have increased.”

Amid these challenges, the Catholic youth leader said, some of those who fled the town May 27 have started returning to their homes.

To assist the affected persons, Mr. Mantama said the Church is “actively involved in humanitarian assistance as Caritas Goma engaged its logistical means to facilitate the distribution of water and food items with its trucks.”

Mr. Mantama went on to appeal to the international community to reach out to those who have been affected by the volcanic eruption, especially those who have been displaced.


“We invite and appeal to the international community to take control of this disaster in order to provide a response and save our people,” he said, adding, “We continue our role as facilitators, as communicators. We continue to observe, collect information and now see how to communicate to those who had left, but also to those who were returning.”

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists May 29, Bishop Ngumbi of Goma Diocese said that with a large number of people needing assistance, the people of God from neighboring cities need to “open their doors and receive the displaced.”

He further invited the Clergy and Religious with means of transport to “make them available to vulnerable people.”

Bishop Ngumbi cautioned the inhabitants of Goma against rushing to return to their respective homes saying “they must remain attentive and vigilant while waiting for the decision of the authorities, because the volcano is unpredictable.”

On their part, members of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) have expressed their “solidarity and spiritual closeness with the people of Goma” following the volcanic eruption.

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In a message issued Saturday, May 29, the Catholic Bishops in DRC say they are “closely following the situation in the city of Goma and in the territory of Nyiragongo.”

“We are deeply saddened by this disaster which occurred within the context of a crisis caused by insecurity in the province of North Kivu and the COVID-19 pandemic. We express our solidarity and spiritual closeness with the people of Goma and Bishop Willy Ngumbi Ngengele,” the Catholic Bishops say in their message signed by CENCO President, Archbishop Marcel Utembi.

They implore, “May the Spirit of the risen Christ console the afflicted and touch the hearts of people of good will so that the surge of solidarity observed in the population is materialized by humanitarian actions in favor of our brothers and sisters affected by these unfortunate events.”

On his part, President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi urges vigilance saying, “The situation is under control. What is certain is that today, the lava is no longer on the crater, but the volcano remains active. We have to remain vigilant. We are following the scientists and we do not want to rush things.”

“I want to go and see for myself how the care of our compatriots is organized, but also to give them comfort and support,” President Tshisekedi has been quoted as saying May 29.

The head of State launched a “vibrant appeal for help and solidarity to compatriots from all corners of the country to come to the aid of the stricken population of Goma through gestures of generosity that could relieve some of the pain in these difficult times.”

Humanitarian aid, he said, “is already reaching the victims, especially in Sake where food has been distributed to the needy.”

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.