Rebuilding Lives on Lava: The Dynamic Forces Shaping Resettlement in Post-Eruption Goma

05 February 2024
by Blaise Mafuko Nyandwi, Lara Mani

A new collaborative research project between the Université de Goma and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, exploring the factors shaping the resettlement of last-mile communities after the 2021 eruption of Nyiragongo volcano in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

On 22 May 2021, without any prior warnings, lava flows erupted from Nyiragongo volcano near the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The lava flows reached the northeast of the city, leading to the evacuation of over 400,000 people. Volcanic activity continued until 22 August 2021, by which time 32 people had died during the eruption.
Events like this are not uncommon in this region, in 2002 a similar eruption at Nyiragongo covered over 13% of the city’s surface area and killed over 140 people, despite hazard warnings being issued by the local observatory at the time. Goma is affected by numerous risks, including disease outbreaks, intense conflict, and volcanic activity, and as a result often volcano hazard warnings go unheard. Conflict in the region also drives more people towards the city, pushing the population to inhabit areas of Goma most at-risk for volcanic activity.

Lava flow that entered Goma in May 2021Photos showing the lava flow that entered Goma in May 2021 and the government temporary camps set up in the shadow of Mt Nyiragongo. 

For those who lost their homes and land during the eruption, the Congolese government launched a project to relocate people to temporary camps before encouraging them to move to a new village developed for their permanent resettlement. In addition, several initiatives have been launched to help affected people to settle elsewhere in Goma, particularly with a persistent risk of volcanic activity in the area. However, just one year after the eruption with the lava still steaming, houses had begun to be developed on the new lava fields. Now, two years after the eruption, it is believed that over 300 new structures have been developed on the lava flows.

A new collaborative project between Université de Goma and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk will seek to understand the dynamic forces pushing communities to resettle on the fresh lava flows. What drives people to live in a high-risk setting, how do the risk perceptions of these communities shape their relationship with risk, and what does this mean for disaster risk management in the area?
This interdisciplinary project will meet the communities resettling on the fresh lava flows and seek to understand how they are organised and how they function to inform disaster risk management in the region. 

This project is the first collaborative project between the Université de Goma and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge and funded by Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA Fund. The project will be led by Dr Lara Mani (CSER) and Dr Blaise Mafuko Nyandwi (UNIGOM), with support from disaster risk management and civil protection agencies in Goma.

Resettlement of houses on the lava field since August 2021Satellite images showing the resettlement of houses on the lava field since August 2021. There are now estimated to be over 300 houses.

Dr Blaise Mafuko Nyandwi is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Volcanology and Disaster Risk Management at the University of Goma with a background in environmental geology. His research seeks to understand the interaction between humans and natural environment in the framework of mitigating natural hazards impacts.  Through a multidisciplinary lens, encompassing geosciences, and social sciences, Blaise’s research aims to unravel the complexities of human-nature interactions, ultimately contributing to the development of proactive measures that can mitigate the impact of natural hazards on human societies.

Dr Lara Mani is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential risk where her research seeks to understand the efficacy of various communication methods and strategies for gaining traction for the mitigation and prevention of global catastrophic risks (GCRs). With a background in volcanic risk studies, Lara's research at CSER also explores the global catastrophic risks from volcanic eruptions and specifically the systemic risks they pose to humanity.

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