Last Saturday, lava flowed gracefully from the huge crater of Mount Niragongo, causing thousands of people to flee to Goma, a city of about two million. Three children died as a direct result of the deaths of at least two people, while people were reported missing UNICEF.
The agency said in a statement that it welcomes the DRC government’s “dedicated efforts” to protect people living in the Red Zone of East Goma from the risk of further explosions, and warns of the potential for children to be at greater risk from further mass evacuations.
“Whenever large groups of people are displaced in the short term, the risks to children increase,” warned Edward Begbeder, UNICEF Representative for the DRC. “We need to be vigilant about the immediate risks to children, including safety issues, nutrition and health risks, and the spread of waterborne diseases, especially cholera.”
Thousands of people affected by the threat are flocking to the nearby town of Sak, 2 towns northwest of the city – an area at risk of cholera outbreak where at least one suspected case has been recorded in the past two weeks.
“With the growing threat of a cholera epidemic we are appealing for immediate international assistance to prevent the threat of extinction for children,” Mr Begbeder added.
After the May 22 blast, thousands of people fled Goma, many of them to Sak.
Authorities on Thursday ordered residents of ten tolls east of Goma, known as the Red Zone, to evacuate immediately. UNICEF said. This zone is thought to be part of the city at greater lava flow risk.
Many of those fleeing on Thursday were on foot, carrying mattresses and cooking utensils, while others fled in cars or motorcycles.
The family is being reunited
As many as 1,000 children have been identified as living away from their parents in a chaotic environment since Saturday’s blast, and UNICEF is helping reunite about 70,000 children with their families.
An additional 1,142 children are placed in transitional foster families, while. There are 78 relocation centers. “Sadly, more than 1,170 families are still searching for missing children. UNICEF is now concerned that the recent vacancies will further alienate more children from their families, “the press release said.
Feedback ramp up
In response to the crisis, UNICEF is providing critical drinking water and sanitation (WASH) equipment, as well as essential non-food items such as jerry cans and tarpaulins.
Steps have also been taken to establish an accessible Volcano Information Center (VIC) through a toll-free SMS system, which has been instrumental in addressing misinformation surrounding the eruption and has been used by more than 200 people.
UNICEF’s key program areas, including WASH, child protection, education, healthcare, development and the nutrition community – are all critical contributions to the DRC that have been critically underserved.
The agency said it was working closely with the DRC government, particularly in the areas of health and nutrition.