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In Goma, burning questions remain after volcanic eruption

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Three months after the eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, life has resumed in Goma. But experts say locals aren’t out of the woods just yet and the threat to the city remains. Fearing that one day, this regional capital in DR Congo will disappear under the lava, researchers, authorities and international partners are coming together to try to manage the risks. Our correspondents Clément Bonnerot and Juliette Dubois report.

It was a night that residents of Goma will remember for a long time. On May 22, at around 6pm, the sky suddenly burst into flames. Lava poured down the side of Mount Nyiragongo, destroying everything in its path. Within hours, tens of thousands had fled to Sake, 30 kilometres to the west, and to neighbouring Rwanda. The night of horror and despair brought back painful memories from the previous eruption in 2002, in which over 3,000 people lost their lives.

This time around, hundreds of homes were destroyed. But the lava stopped just hundreds of metres from the city’s limits, miraculously sparing most of the centre. Experts, however, say that locals aren’t out of the woods just yet: Goma and its nearly two million residents are ultimately doomed to disappear.

The city of Goma, at the foot of the Nyiragongo volcano
The city of Goma, at the foot of the Nyiragongo volcano © Clément Bonnerot/France24

In this report, our correspondents take stock of the threat looming over the city. The danger comes not only from the volcano but also from Lake Kivu, which contains huge quantities of potentially lethal gas. Researchers at the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) are doing their best to forecast and prevent the risks, but the OVG is critically under-funded and plagued by suspicions of corruption and embezzlement.

To prevent a major disaster, authorities are considering moving a part of the city to the town of Sake, a colossal project on which the government has yet to pin a price tag. But convincing residents to leave the land they have occupied for centuries is bound to be difficult.

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