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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 00:37 GMT
Goma resilient despite devastation
Bulldozer at work in Goma
Bulldozers have been clearing paths through the lava
By the BBC's Peter Biles in Goma

The difficulty in reaching the western sector of Goma underlines the problems facing both the people of this devastated city and the aid agencies who are now trying to help them after last week's volcanic eruption.

They just came and offered help - parents and children alike

Goma resident
Goma is a divided city with a "Berlin Wall" made from the black volcanic lava that poured out of Mount Nyiragongo and spewed into the heart of the city's commercial district.

To reach Unity Stadium, one has to clamber over a 500-metre (1,600-foot) stretch of lava, much of which is still extremely hot.

Bulldozers have begun trying to flatten the lava in places, but the huge rocks and sharp-edged boulders make this an arduous and perilous trek.

Undeterred, many hundreds of Goma residents are also crossing the lava.

Women in brightly coloured long dresses and young children wearing flip-flops join the throng of men carrying household bundles and sheets of corrugated iron roofing, retrieved from the lava flow.

Food aid

Outside Unity Stadium, a crowd of several thousand people has gathered in anticipation of the UN World Food Programme's (WFP) first food aid distribution in Goma.

Inhabitants walk across a path carved through lava
The journey to aid distribution centres is perilous

The UN has pledged to provide food assistance to Goma's 450,000 residents for the next month.

Initial food parcels weighing 26 kilograms should provide individual families with enough maize, beans and cooking oil for the first week.

"About 30% of the city has been destroyed, so a large number of people have lost their homes," said WFP spokesperson, Lara Melo.

"There are no jobs here, so a lot of people won't have much of an income for quite a long time," she added.

On the way into town from the lakeside border crossing with Rwanda, hundreds more people have gathered at a water distribution point.

Most of them carry large yellow plastic containers.

Bruce Hickling from the International Rescue Committee says the daily search for water in the city has become one of the most pressing concerns.

"People can go without food longer than they can go without water. The priority is to meet the water needs and then after that, we can look at food, shelter and other non-food items," he said.

Clearing up

Whichever way you turn in Goma, you are likely to encounter a road filled with lava.

Woman carries a sack of food
Food has finally reached a starving population

The city is Iike a maze of dead ends with black rock piled up, blocking one's path.

On the main road north, heading towards the chain of volcanoes that make up the Virunga National Park, there is a strong sense of community spirit.

In addition to a bulldozer at work, local people wielding picks and sledgehammers are setting about the mammoth task of trying to clear some of the lava.

One of the helpers, Amadi Kamulake, says there is a will among the population.

"They just came and offered help - parents and children alike. They're all involved in this work."

Within a couple of hours, the road is cleared of the lava and the work teams move on.

Now, there will be a better chance to assess the humanitarian needs of the people in outlying villages.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country so often devoid of hope, these could be important signs of recovery.

The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"It's impossible to fend for yourself here"

Congo volcano
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See also:

23 Jan 02 | Africa
Relief reaches volcano victims
23 Jan 02 | Africa
Expert predicted volcano eruption
22 Jan 02 | Health
Medical emergency in Goma
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