Infrastructure and Volcanic Activities of Mountain Nyiragongo

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This report will go into detail about how the 2002 eruption of Mt Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo impacted the local people of Goma. Mt Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano on the east side of the Democratic Republic of Congo, close to Rwanda and is 3,470m tall and the crater is 2 meters wide (Uganda, 2019). Throughout, the report will cover a range of topics like the geology of the area and how this impacted the volcanic eruption as well as how affective the evacuation plan put into place by the government was. This will further lead into how the infrastructure of the city of Goma was affected, loss of business, disruption to lively hood and how well the local people work with the aid teams to bring back some form of order to the lives of the residents of Goma.

Geology Of Mt Nyiragongo

Mt Nyiragongo is a stratovolcano that stands 3470m tall and produces basaltic lava. Mt Nyiragongo has erupted around 34 times which was how the volcano gained its height. Each successful eruption built up the height of the volcano (Roscoe, 2011). The volcano is part of a volcanic field and is one of the few volcanoes in the area which has been historically active (Roscoe, 2011).The cause of Mt Nyiragongo is the rifting of the earth’s crust in the western branch of the East African Rift valley which is a divergent plate boundary that developing. The two plates that are pulling apart to cause the divergent plate boundary are the Somalian plate and the Nubian plate (society, 2012). The lava produced by Nyiragongo is not like lava that is produced by other volcanoes. Asish Basu (staff, 2009) who is a professor at the University of Rochester stated that ‘this is the most fluid lava anyone has seen in the world’. He also stated that he and other scientists / volcanologists ‘believe we’re seeing the beginning of a plume that is pushing up the entire area’ (staff, 2009). This would be the cause of all the seismic activity in the area and would also explain the reason for so many rifts and fissures from opening up.

What Was The Eruption Like?

The 2002 eruption took place on Mt. Nyiragongo, which is a volcano known as a stratovolcano meaning that it has been built up of multiple layers of old ash and lava flows from previous eruption. John Seach (2005), states that the eruption lasted for around a day but in this time still managed to cause sufficient damage to major parts of Goma, including things like the international airport and business centre. The eruption caused around 400,000 people to have to leave their homes to find safety and thousands of people ended up losing their homes to the eruption.

Kivu rift was the cause of the eruption as it led to the ground cracking and allowing lava to rise through the cracks from the lava lake in the crater (Seach 2005). The eruption was expected as there was an increase level of seismic activity on the southern side of the volcano during January 2002. The lava from the fissure flowed south down and through the city of Goma (see figure 2). The flows of lava caused multiple fires around the commercial centre and explosions could be heard around the area. It was suspected to be a car or petrol station that caught on fire and exploded (Seach, 2005). On January 28th, the volcano had stopped erupting and the sky was clear enough that the volcanologists could look at the crater of the volcano by taking a flight around the summit which revealed to them that a large section of the crater floor had in fact collapsed (Seach, 2005)

How Did They Prepare For The Eruption?

Finding the large section of crater floor that had collapsed lead to the preparation to evacuate. The evacuation before the eruption did not go to plan due to Congo not having a ‘functioning government’ (Clarke, 2002). Which was due to the lack of staff and no pay. The two stations on Mt Nyiragongo knew that there was seismic activity occurring and gave around 7 days’ notice to the government, but due to them being in a ‘war-torn region’ (Clarke, 2002) they failed to evacuate the city of Goma affectively. Which led to the deaths of 45 people and the existing crisis in the area had gotten much worse. The people on the upper flanks of the volcano moved down towards Goma so they were at a good distance from the eruption as they didn’t know what route the lava flows would take. Once the lava reach Goma people began to evacuate but the airport had already been damaged. Another issue they had with evacuating Goma is there was so much vehicle traffic that the roads were blocked for 2hours by the border guards leaving people to leave on foot (Baxter Ancia, 2002).

How Has It Disrupted Livelihoods For The Locals?

The people of Goma had been hit badly by the eruption with the total number of people affected being approximately 350,000 people and the total number of homes being destroyed was around 12,500(see figure 3) (Seach, 2005). This meant that lots of families had no home and possibly nowhere to go and would need the support of the local authority and aid teams to help them to figure out what the next steps for them would be. Some people also lost family and friends to the eruption with the total death count being 147 deaths (Seach, 2005). 1 month after Nyiragongo erupted thousands of people still required the help of aid and thousands of people moved to take refuge in the next country which was Gisenyi (Linley, 2013). Some of the locals were able to move in with family for a few days until they knew what the best thing to do next was. Houses had become available to rent for those that who could afford to pay, and temporary camps began to appear to help others that were less fortunate. These camps were ill buildings that weren’t being used at the time e.g. churches, schools, etc. (Sesnan, 2004)

Transport links were interrupted due to roads being destroyed and airports being damaged. This caused the transport of aid from other countries to be difficult as they couldn’t get through quickly (Seach, 2005). The eruption also impacted communication as some of the phone lines were destroyed in the eruption and access to the internet was limited. However, there was no threat of the local community starving as Goma was well supplied with food that they grow around the city and it tends to be affordable. The farms that hadn’t been affected by the lava flows would have been used to help feed the people of Goma (Roby, 2016). The main problem was people not being able to afford to buy much food. This is where aid was needed to help provide for those who lost everything. Family kits were provided to help families with little to nothing left restart their lives. (Sesnan, 2004)


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Businesses were destroyed as the centre of Goma was a commercial centre which had homes, schools and businesses that were all damaged or destroyed by the lava flow that went through Goma (Sesnan, 2004). This caused a large amount of the local people to lose their employment which meant that they didn’t have a stable income. This was a major hit on the economy of Goma (Sesnan, 2004). Business was also affected by disease. Workers who would have been able to go to work could have been some of the people that were unfortunate and caught a disease due to poor sanitation. Some families were living with multiple other families in one house, making the house extremely unsanitary (Sesnan, 2004). People having to have time off due to the disease also means that stores that could have reopened couldn’t due to not having the staff required to run the store. This would have a big impact on the infrastructure and on the local businesses. One kind of business that was be greatly affected by the eruption was farms that grow the local crops (see figure 4). This is as the volcano released sulphur dioxide, which prevented crops from growing (Roby, 2016). This caused the farmers to not have any produce to sell forward stopping them from making money. Although after a while the farmers were able to go back to the fields were their farms used to be and found that their yields were a lot larger than before the eruption. The only downside would be if the volcano was to erupt again, they would have to start from scratch like before (Roby, 2016)

Social Cohesion

Social cohesion is an important step in rebuilding Goma for the community. This will help to sort out the economy and the infrastructure. Social cohesion is where people in society e.g. the people of the DR of Gongo come together to help each other with a common goal in mind. (Stanley, 2003). In March the local people of Goma worked with the aid teams to provide temporary shelters for the families that lost everything. Some families have got their temporary homes located on land that is owned by friends and family (services, 2002). The locals all worked together to help those who had nothing by getting the materials from the aid teams and then working with others to build the structures. The structures were made out of corrugated sheets, plastic sheets and wooden beams (services, 2002). The Catholic Relief services (CRS) started working on other projects once housing was being sorted efficiently. They started working on things like rebuilding schools. The CRS was given a grant from the U.S. Embassy’s emergency fund to help with the damage. This grant allowed CRS to build six classrooms which would eventually be developed into a full school (services, 2002). Some of the locals that didn’t leave the Goma to go stay with family volunteered to help the CRS with registering the returning population so that CRS knew who needed what kind of aid (services, 2002). They also helped to clear the volcanic rock away from buildings so access could be gained. This can be seen in figure 5.


One major part of the infrastructure that was affected by the volcanic eruption was the city’s water network as the laver flows caused extensive damage. As well as the actual network the two main pumping stations stopped working due to the power supply going down. Due to these factors the people of Goma were told not to drink the water from the main network as the water would be contaminated and could lead to an outbreak of diarrhea (Baxter et al, 2002). After a few weeks there were reports of multiple cases of Gastroenteritis which is common and causes vomiting and diarrhea. It will normally clear up after a week. It would have spread due to contamination of the water source (NHS, 2019). All the patients with gastroenteritis took water from Lake Kivu but fail to decontaminate the water by chlorinating it. This lead Goma’s government and the aid teams to put in more chlorination points at the water sources and put a more urgent alert for repairs of the main water network to be finished (Baxter et al, 2002).

Another aspect of the infrastructure that was affected is the power supply. Goma got all its electricity from the Headquarters of the Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL) which is located in Bukavu. However, due to not wanting the power lines to cause fires the people working at SNEL decided to cut the power to Goma. Two of power lines and transformers were damaged by the lava flows and didn’t get repaired due to shortage of money meaning they had to get power from another town or city. The power supply was sorted after 3 days. It took this long as for the repairs to occur they had to wait for the lava flows to cool enough so they could then cross into the city. It was also important to get power supplies going again after 3 days as this is when the people of Goma that evacuated started to return so demand for electricity would begin to increase (Baxter Ancia, 2002).

How is Goma/Mt Nyiragongo today?

In 2017, Global Press Journal stated “fifteen years after deadly eruption, city rebuilds and rebounds in shadows of volcano” (Nsapu, 2017). The local people are thrilled with the way Goma is being rebuilt. The authorities and residents of Goma are working together to rebuild the city which has seen a reduction in the amount of war in the area, it is still there but not to the level that it was before the eruption (Nsapu, 2017). In 2016, Nyiragongo started producing rumbling sounds which was due the new seismic activity beginning on the volcano. A new fissure opened up on the east side and due to this scientists in Observatoire Volcanologique de Goma which is one of the observatories that monitors the seismic activity in the area, has set up a warning siren that the government will use to signal to the local people of Goma that Mt Nyiragongo is about to erupt again. This time they already have evacuation plans in place to try and prevent the 2002 eruption from occurring again (Nsapu, 2017). A report from The Global Volcanism program (Sennert, 2019) states that “Nyiragongo’s lava lake had dropped” and also that “activity also declined at a small eruptive cone that formed in the crater in 2014”.


Overall, Mt Nyiragongo is a dangerous volcano that caused a major disruption to the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Especially to the city of Goma which was severely damaged due to multiple flows going through Goma causing massive amounts of destruction that is still being repaired in recent years. Some of the biggest impacts of the eruption is the amount of people that ended up being displaced and the impact that all of this had on Goma’s infrastructure. Multiple businesses had to shut down for repairs and lots of work needed doing to restore the city to how it was including things like the water-supply, their source of electricity and many other things. One of the best things to come from the 2002 eruption of Nyiragongo is that the people of Goma worked together to help reduce the devastating impact of the eruption by working with each other and the aid teams to help get Goma back into some form of order. Which did help allow the government to regain control of the area after all of the issues they had before the eruption.

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