NAIROBI, 25 August (IRIN) - Two years of emissions of gas, ash and cinders from Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira volcanoes in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are causing health problems for an estimated 60,000 people in the mountains' immediate vicinity. The emissions also place the health of a further 1.2 million in surrounding areas at risk.
"About 30,000 square kilometres of land west of the volcanoes has been destroyed by the fallout", Kasereka Mahinda, the head of the Department of Geophysics at the Volcanic Observatory of the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles in Goma, said.
"There is no vegetation, animals are dying and people are contracting stomach illnesses as well as respiratory and bone diseases," he added.
Mahinda told IRIN that Nyiragongo was emitting between 18,000 and 51,000 mt of cinders a day, according to measurements and visual observations. The chemicals being emitted include sulphur dioxide, chloride and fluoride.
The chemicals enter the water supply, said Mahinda. "Fluoride overdoses are causing a variety of sickness and turning people's teeth transparent. Chloride is causing respiratory disorders."
The emissions are also having an "acid rain" effect on the environment. In the last two years agricultural production decreased by an estimated 60 percent, he said.
Some 5,000 square-km of land in the nearby Virunga National Park have been destroyed, endangering chimpanzees and other wildlife.
There are also risks of further eruptions, Mahinda said, adding: "But we do not have the ability to predict more than a month in advance."
Mahinda said people living in affected areas should be made aware of the health risks and taught ways of minimising the effects. "They need to know that washing vegetables is very important and they should only drink treated water," he added, though he admitted that treated water was mostly unavailable.
Many of the residents should have been moved to safer areas, but they are unwilling to go because of political instability in the eastern Congo region. Many fear that, when they return, their property will have been taken.
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