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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 16:42 GMT
Aid agencies battle Congo crisis
People queue for aid in Goma
Hundreds of thousands have returned to Goma
Aid agencies have been rushing emergency supplies to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to help those affected by the volcanic eruption at Goma.

Many countries have already pledged money to help alleviate the crisis, which has left more than 400,000 without homes.

Our country is large, let them deliver aid here

Goma resident
Despite warnings from the aid agencies of air and water pollution from the lava and the risk of further vsolcanic activity thousands of people have been returning to Goma.

Some agencies are distributing much needed food and water to Goma, but officials from the World Food Programme (WFP) are refusing to deliver aid in the town until the risk of further eruptions is ruled out.

"We're not going to distribute food in Goma itself as long as we don't have assurances of the safety of the situation," said WFP spokeswoman Laura Melo.

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UN officials were planning to distribute aid on Goma's outskirts, outside of what is considered the danger zone, she said.

The UN has set up two tented refugee camps near Gisenyi over the border in Rwanda, but they are standing virtually empty as people choose to return home instead.

Many Goma residents do not want to settle in Rwanda.

Refugee camp at Nkamira, Rwanda
The refugee camps in Rwanda stand virtually empty

"The weather is so cold, we can't go to (the camp)... it's in a forest, so the conditions are harsh and there are many mosquitoes," said Augustin Mirenge, a Goma school teacher.

"We repeat with emphasis that we cannot take refuge in Rwanda, nor in any other foreign country. Our country is large, let them deliver aid here," declared one local aid worker.

Contaminated water

The Red Cross has delivered chlorine to one of Goma's water treatment plants. According to Francois Goemans, a spokesman for the European Union relief agency ECHO, the water is "bacteriologically safe, but tests to check the mineral safety" are underway.

UN officials are particularly worried that because of the scarcity of water people are drinking contaminated water from Lake Kivu, which could cause an outbreak of cholera.

A boy collects corrugated iron in Goma
People are braving the lava to scavenge what they can

"There's dust in the water from the magma falling into the lake. The taste is very bitter, but we have to drink," said Andre Mashukano.

Shipments of international aid are slowly starting to trickle into the area. A plane load of aid from the US Agency for International Development arrived at the airport in Kigali, capital of neighbouring Rwanda.

Lost children

And a Unicef shipment of 60 tonnes of emergency supplies including water purification tablets and powder, oral rehydration salts, tents and tarpaulins for shelter, and blankets for infants and children is due to arrive on Monday.

"While our immediate focus is on emergency shelter, water and health requirements, we are also concerned that many children may have been separated from their families in the rush to leave Goma," said spokesman David Bull.

Unicef estimates that among those affected by the volcano some 200,000 are children.

President Joseph Kabila has announced an aid package to the tune of 450m Congolese francs ($1.3m) to help with the immediate relief effort and a number of foreign countries have pledged support too.

The UK has pledged $2.9m (2m) in emergency aid, Australia will give $500,000, Ireland $440,000 and South Africa will send relief aid, including food and water.

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