DR Congo

DRC: Rebuilding a kingdom

Elizabeth Brown reports how CARE International helps Goma residents start new homes with support from the DEC.
The eruption of the Nyirogongo volcano outside Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 17 January 2002 captured world media attention, with footage of the slow-moving lava engulfing city streets. But long after the news crews have left and coverage has ended, CARE is working with some of the people hardest hit by the volcano's damage, to help them rebuild their homes and their livelihoods.

Almost one-third of the town of Goma was damaged by lava or by fire. Anne Morris, Country Director at CARE Rwanda across the border, described the scene: 'Entire neighborhoods were destroyed. Blackened gravel and dirt roads cross what once were roofs. Parts of the city resembled an enormous junkyard stretching for acres. Scrap metal and twisted blobs were caught in a hardened, black swirling morass.'

CARE and other NGOs responded immediately to the disaster and worked closely together to provide food, shelter and heath care efficiently. From neighbouring Rwanda, CARE's role was to supply Goma residents with items such as pots and dishes, jerricans, blankets and plastic sheeting. Jerricans are water containers, and plastic sheeting is used as a cover for temporary shelters. CARE also offered emergency health care though local clinics in the temporary shelters.

With the initial emergency over, CARE is now supporting the efforts of 1,200 households to re-establish themselves. These households are among the millions of internally displaced people (IDPs), usually small farm families who fled the civil war, who had settled on the northeast side of Goma. Far from their original homes, they lost what little they had to the lava's flow.

CARE staff met with them, along with local organisations and authorities, to consider the best ways to help them. Their most pressing needs were housing, basic household items and seeds for the coming planting season. CARE is helping to meet these needs, thanks to an additional =A3200,000 from the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

The DEC is an umbrella organisation which launches and co-ordinates the UK's National Appeal in response to major disasters overseas. The Goma Crisis Appeal raised a total of =A34.5 million for the 12 member charities involved, largely through donations by the British public.

The area of construction is called Munigi, a small ethnic 'kingdom' outside Goma, governed by a leader called a 'Bami'. The area is far from the path of the lava, and is unlikely to be affected by further eruptions.

Working with community leaders, CARE is distributing building materials and is helping residents build homes, with a CARE engineer supporting local builders and the residents themselves. Most of the houses have a wood frame, a corrugated iron roof and plastic walls. The residents will gradually replace the walls with volcanic stones. Stone is a common building material in the area and is more easily obtainable than brick. The average house is around 27 metres square and shelters a family of seven people. Other partner NGOs are supporting water, sanitation and health services in the area.

Twelve hundred households will also receive blankets, pots, plastic jerricans and hoes, as well as bean seeds for planting. Beans are a staple diet; the traditional meal of North Kivu people is beans with bananas or Irish potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Small farming activities around Goma are common, as the volcanic soil is very fertile. Bean plants take four months to grow, but after the harvest the survivors of the volcano should have enough seeds for the next year and be self-sufficient for the season to come.

One of the largest countries in the African continent, the DRC's great potential remains untapped. The country has suffered a series of civil conflicts between government and regional opposition forces fighting around the Great Lakes. An estimated 2.2 million Congolese were forced from their homes by the fighting, becoming refugees within their own country. About one million of these are concentrated in North and South Kivu provinces, including Goma.

CARE International re-established its office in the capital city of Kinshasa on DRC's western border around the time of the Goma eruption. Along with the Goma relief and reconstruction projects, CARE is supporting the rebuilding of civil society with small grants to local groups, encouraging ordinary Congolese citizens to take part in the peace process. At a critical point in the country's history, CARE is continuing to fight poverty and seek social justice in the DRC.

Notes to editors

CARE International, one of the world's largest humanitarian organisations, helps people and communities achieve lasting solutions to poverty. Projects include agriculture and natural resources, economic development, education, food, health, water and sanitation, and emergency response. CARE programmes benefit around 35 million people in more than 63 countries.