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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 17:13 GMT
More trauma in disaster-prone area
Refugee being beaten in refugee camp in Goma area in 1996
Violence was the rule in Goma's refugee camps
By BBC News Online's David Chazan

The volcanic eruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a natural catastrophe in an area ravaged by man-made disasters.

As well as the country's own civil war, the eastern area around Goma has received the spillover from neighbouring Rwanda's civil war and genocide.

Goma's recent history
1994 - 2m refugees pour in from Rwanda
1996 - Rwandan soldiers invade and close refugee camps
Goma area remains more or less under Rwandan control
Malnutrition persists in countryside around Goma
Area around Goma still infested by rebels and bandits
Now the region faces the threat of further volcanic eruptions, scientists say, as Mount Nyiragongo is part of a chain of volcanos.

In 1994, up to two million Rwandan refugees fled into the Goma area.

Most were from the Hutu ethnic group.

Some were militiamen believed to have taken part in the attempted genocide of Rwanda's minority Tutsi community.

Anarchy and chaos

The militias took control of some of the refugee camps around Goma, and began attacking local Banyamulenge Tutsis.

Rwandan troops invaded and attacked the camps in 1996, driving some refugees back to Rwanda.

Others, including many militiamen, fled in the opposite direction to the west and deeper into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Some Rwandan refugees are still in the Goma area - but not in significant numbers, according to local sources.

But Democratic Republic of Congo has two million internally displaced people.

In 1997, Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels deposed President Mobutu Sese Seko.

Laurent Kabila became president and the country - formerly known as Zaire - was renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But neither Mr Kabila - nor his son who took over after his assassination - was able to govern this vast country which has been left with few roads and little infrastructure after more than 30 years of dictatorship under President Mobutu.

Misery and danger

Goma, close to the Rwandan border, is about 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) from Kinshasa - the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Different rebel groups with varying tribal and political allegiances and links with other countries operate in the area - as do bandits.

That makes it very dangerous - if not impossible - to travel by road from Goma to many other parts of Democratic Republic of Congo.

There are pockets of malnutrition in the countryside outside Goma, as the threat of violence often prevents subsistence farmers from cultivating their land, said Wyger Wentholt of the Medecins Sans Frontieres agency.

Refugee children in Goma in 1994
Orphans among the Rwandan refugees who poured into Goma
"This comes as a natural disaster on top of years of suffering for the people in the Goma area," Mr Wentholt told BBC News Online.

The Rwandans and Ugandans have not relinquished their hold on eastern Congo.

Telephones in Goma use the Rwandan exchange.

"Goma is governed more from Rwanda or Uganda than from Kinshasa," said an aid worker.

A 'non-country'

Up to 400,000 of Goma's population - estimated at up to half a million - are reported to have fled the town.

Two-thirds of them have crossed the border into Rwanda, while the rest have fled to the west, to the Masisi area.

Aid workers say it is easier to provide those in Rwanda with food, water and shelter than the others - because of the chaos and lack of infrastructure in Democratic Republic of Congo - which some development officials describe as "a virtual state".

The United Nations has accused neighbouring countries - including Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola - of plundering Democratic Republic of Congo's vast natural resources.

Goma refugee camp in 1996
The Goma camps sheltered up to two million refugees
The UN says forces of those countries present in Democratic Republic of Congo are looting gold, timber, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and the rare metal coltan - hugely valuable because it is needed to make electronic products such as mobile phones.

Aid workers say people in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo have little to fall back on.

"They've had very difficult times from the war since 1996 and it's a zone cut off from the rest of the world where people don't have many coping strategies left," said Rachel Scott of the Concern aid agency.

"Now many of their homes have been destroyed, there's a lack of food, clean water will be hard to find, and they will need shelter," Ms Scott told BBC News Online.

See also:

01 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Why volcanoes explode
31 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Early warning for volcanic mudslides
19 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Volcano teaches deadly lessons
15 Mar 00 | Europe
Living with a volcano
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