Storms lash Congo

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE, MD | February 8, 2002

Severe storms lashed Congo

Friday, causing deadly flash flooding three weeks after

a volcanic eruption incinerated more than half the city

of Goma.

The town of Uvira -- some 120 miles south of Goma -- was

severely damaged. Nearly 50 people were feared dead, and

more than 600 lost their homes. On Friday rescuers were

attempting to remove huge rocks that had crashed down

over the town. Most local roads were blocked by debris.

The worst storms to hit Uvira in more than a decade

brought torrential rain and flash floods to a town that

lies on a narrow strip of land with a lake on one side

and hills with huge rocks on the other. Most people live

in earthen homes.

Government officials said they feared continued heavy

rains would cause even worse destruction.

Meanwhile members of Action by Churches Together (ACT),

a worldwide coalition of faith-based and related

agencies that respond to disasters, were responding to

last month's volcanic eruption that destroyed large

parts of Goma.

When Mount Nyiragongo erupted Jan. 17, it destroyed

water systems for miles around Goma. It also razed the

city's center -- its homes, schools, and health clinics.

The city's Baptist hospital -- said to have been the

best in town - was destroyed.

Then post-eruption earthquakes destroyed still more

structures in both Congo and Rwanda.

Many families barely escaped the lava flow when it

engulfed the town, leaving without taking anything with

them. Some 500,000 people fled Congo for Rwanda, with

most of them returning to their homes.

Lava destroyed many small villages in the Goma area.

Many people in remote villages waited weeks before

receiving any assistance, depending on rain for fresh

water. The threat of cholera still looms, and bean

fields and other crops are now buried under a hard bed

of lava.

The Goma airport was partially destroyed, and many roads

were blocked. Lava now divides Goma into eastern and

western sections. Many primary income earners in

families lost their jobs.

Humanitarian organizations are working with local

officials to relocate and rebuild homes. Disaster

response leaders reported that most people are unwilling

to relocate themselves outside Goma, where local

authorities had proposed three relocation sites, one in

the former Rwandan refugee camp Mugungu.

The city of Goma had long provided a safe haven to many

people displaced by war. Internal conflict in the

country has caused widespread poverty even before the

volcanic eruption, earthquakes, and storms.

Many families are still staying in churches that have

been set up as temporary shelters.

The Bureau Oecumenique d'Appui au Development (BOAD) and

Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC) -- both ACT members --

are forming a local team that will work with civil

officials and local people on the issue of relocation.

The team will also consider what kind of houses should

be built in the volcanic area. Local authorities are not

allowing people to start building permanent structures

on top of the lava. Buildings that sustained minor

damage are being fixed with sheets of corrugated iron

and plastic.

ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) is working with

the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Oxfam, and

other agencies. An NCA five-person team provided 20

temporary storage tanks that were installed and are

supplying water to about 18,000 people daily.

In cooperation with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), NCA

is transporting water to the tanks using two trucks.

NCA has also been working with the French organization

Solidarite in areas just outside Goma. Four water

storage tanks were installed about 7 miles outside Goma,

close to the Rwandan border. They serve the local

population as well about 3,000 displaced people who fled

last month's lava flow.

NCA is working with local authorities to provide

equipment to help rebuild the water network.

BOAD and ECC have identified three locations in Goma

(Katoyi, Faraga, and Rutoboko) where food will be

distributed to some 6,000 families. Their efforts are

also reaching families in villages outside Goma.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is expected

to provide some of the food.

Local churches continue to distribute food they receive

from other churches abroad. But many people are

struggling to find a balanced diet and many are

subsisting on beans.

LWF, BOAD, and other ACT members are also providing

families with non-food items such as plastic sheeting,

jerry cans, blankets, and kitchen sets. ECC is working

with other ACT-affiliated agencies to assess health-

related needs in the area.

Within the first few days after the eruption, LWF

distributed kitchen sets to 700 families in Ruhengeri,

as well as 35 rolls of plastic sheeting and 560 blankets

to displaced people from Goma. LWF also distributed

firewood that was provided by ACT member Christian Aid.

LWF continues to run warehouses in the towns of

Ruhengeri and Gisenyi in Rwanda. The warehouses store

all food to be used by the WFP for Goma.

Eight locations have been identified where temporary

schools can be built for children whose schools were

destroyed. Some 24,000 children cannot attend school in

Goma. LWF, Christian Aid, ECC, other international

agencies, and local authorities will jointly coordinate

the school rehabilitations. Classes will resume in Goma

Feb. 25.

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