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CWS Responds to Catastrophe in D.R. Congo,
As Hundreds of Thousands Flee Volcano

To help, direct funds to:
Church World Service, 28606 Phillips St., Elkhart, IN 46514.  More information/credit card donations to 1-800-297-1516 or online at

January 18, 2002, NEW YORK CITY -- Church World Service is supporting global ecumenical work to provide emergency assistance among the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing as the Nyiragongo volcano erupts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire). 

An estimated two-thirds of the 500,000 residents of Goma have fled the rivers of lava since Thursday (January 17), when the volcano started erupting.  Goma and at least 14 nearby villages have been devastated.  Most people have fled to Gisenyi, Rwanda, where they are staying in churches, schools, and public buildings.

At least 45 people are reported dead, the United Nations said.  Some 300,000 people have fled to Rwanda, according to some military officials.  The Lutheran World Federation reports from Rwanda that tens of thousands of people are making their way to Gisenyi.   Others are believed to have fled into the forest, trying to make their way to Kisangani in an effort to flee the volcanic eruption.  LWF staff members are concerned that once people flee into the dense forest area, they cannot be reached.

Some relief officials are calling the crisis a huge catastrophe.  Molten lava as high as six feet has wiped out villages on the side of the volcano and has spread down into the streets of Goma and into Lake Kivu, near the Rwandan border, Reuters reported.

"This is going to be a human catastrophe," said a United Nations official, in the region as part of international peace-keeping efforts along the Rwandan border, saying the refugees needed shelter.

Relief officials who work in Goma, a base for international efforts to assist those fleeing war along the border between Congo and Rwanda, said relief supply facilities were among the buildings destroyed by the lava.

Church World Service is closely monitoring the situation and is supporting efforts by fellow Action by Churches Together (ACT) International members, who also include the Lutheran World Federation, Christian Aid and Norwegian Church Aid.

ACT is a worldwide network of churches and related agencies meeting human need through coordinated emergency response.  Its coordinating office is based with the World Council of Churches and Lutheran World Federation in Switzerland.

People's urgent needs include food, plastic sheeting for shelter and essential non-food items, such as blankets and kitchen utensils.  Water is also a critical item, as water supplies have been cut.  Norwegian Church Aid reports from Nairobi that it has been in touch with partners in Bukavu and are sending a team to work jointly with the Lutheran World Federation to make an assessment.

Some staff of ACT members Bureau Oecumenique d'Appui au Developpement (BOAD) and Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC) in Goma are reported to have been directly affected by the destruction.

Church World Service is the global humanitarian response ministry of the National Council of Churches and its 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member communions.


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