DR Congo

Up to 280,000 children face displacement because of DRC volcano threat

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UNICEF/UN0466151/Acland © Flowing lava from the volcanic eruption of Mount Nyiragongo, which occurred late on 22 May, UNICEF has reported that more than 150 children have been separated from their families and more than 170 children are feared to be missing as people fled the city of Goma.

GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 27 May 2021 – As the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) advise people living in part of the city of Goma to vacate their homes due to the risk of another volcanic eruption, UNICEF has warned that as many as 400,000 people - including 280,000 children - could be displaced and in need of protection or support.

UNICEF welcomes the government’s dedicated efforts to protect people living in the Red Zone of eastern Goma from risks associated with further eruptions of Mount Nyiragongo, and is warning of the potential that children be at greater risk during the mass evacuation.

"Whenever large groups of people are displaced in a short period of time, the dangers to children increase," warned UNICEF Representative in the DRC Edouard Beigbeder. "We must be alert to immediate risks for children on the move, including protection issues, nutrition and health risks, including waterborne disease and especially the spread of cholera.”

Thousands of those fleeing Goma are heading to the nearby town of Sake - 25 km northwest of the city - an area prone to cholera outbreaks where at least 19 suspected cases have been recorded in the last two weeks.

“With an increased danger of a cholera epidemic, we are appealing for urgent international assistance to avert what threatens to be a catastrophe for children," added Beigbeder.

Thousands of people fled Goma following the 22 May eruption, many of whom have headed to Sake.

An order by the authorities on Thursday 27 May that residents of the ten neighbourhoods in the east of Goma known as the Red Zone must immediately vacate their homes has seen a further mass exodus. The Zone is thought to be the part of the city most at risk should another eruption occur.

Many of those fleeing Goma on Thursday travelled on foot, carrying mattresses and cooking utensils, while others escaped by car or on motorbikes.

At least 32 people have died as a direct result of the eruption, including three children, while 40 people have been reported as missing.

Nearly 1,000 children who were separated from their parents amid the chaos following the first day of the destruction have now been identified, with UNICEF helping to reunite nearly 700 children with their families.

An additional 142 children have been placed in transitional foster families, while 78 are in transit accommodation centers. Tragically more than 170 families are still looking for lost children. UNICEF is now concerned that the chaos of the latest evacuations will result in more children being separated from their families.

In response to the crisis, UNICEF is arranging the delivery of essential Non-Food Items – such as jerry cans and tarpaulins in addition to providing vitally important Water and Sanitation (WASH) equipment. Steps have also been taken to establish a Volcano Information Centre (VIC), accessible through toll-free SMS system. The VIC has played a crucial role in addressing misinformation surrounding the eruption and has so far been used by more than 5,200 people.

Needs Assessments have also been conducted in all UNICEF’s main programme areas – including WASH, Child Protection, Education, Healthcare, Community for Development and Nutrition – all vitally important aid contributions in the DRC that remain critically underfunded.

The UN children’s agency is in addition working closely with the Government of the DRC, especially in the areas of Health and Nutrition.

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Notes for editors:

UNICEF’s response strategy in detail:

WASH/Cholera/Non Food Items (NFI)

  • UNICEF and its partner the Red Cross have strengthened the active surveillance against cholera and ensured water chlorination of public water points, while providing water trucking to the areas affected by the damages to the Bushara water reservoir
  • UNICEF is also mobilizing its WASH /NFI stocks towards Sake to allow a response for 100,000 people in needs of safe water such as 30 bladders, plastic sheeting, Chlorine, buckets. UNICEF rapid response team with its partner Congolese Red Cross, is preparing a distribution of the NFI and WASH kits to vulnerable households.

Child protection:

  • UNICEF, in partnership with the North Kivu Division of Social Affairs (DIVAS), the Red Cross and Change the World, has initiated immediately identification, assistance and family tracing for unaccompanied children
  • Temporary accommodation centers are being supported to cater for increased number of children being hosted
  • A coordination system has been put in place, through the DIVAS, partners and community-based child protection networks to ensure regular contact with children in foster families, identify and to refer new cases of family separation as well as survivors of GBV to appropriate services still functional.

Communication for Development (C4D):

  • To promote risk communication and community engagement, UNICEF has set up a Volcano Information Center through toll-free SMS, which as of May 25th was consulted by more than 5,200 people, hence reducing misinformation. Lastly, UNICEF has conducted needs assessments in Education, Health and Nutrition that serve as basis for this appeal.

Capacities:

  • Overall, $2.7 millions of contingency supplies are prepositioned in Goma and could be mobilised for the response but will have to be partially replenished
  • In addition, UNICEF has existing partners in rapid response, WASH, child protection, education, health and nutrition that can be mobilised immediately for the response.

Media contacts

Jean Jacques Simon
UNICEF DRC
Tel: +243 826 541 004
Email: jsimon@unicef.org

Joe English
UNICEF New York
Tel: +1 917 893 0692
Email: jenglish@unicef.org