The eruption of Goma: digital technology and early warning

The security and humanitarian crisis, which has plagued the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for more than two decades, has led conservation factors to devise strategies to prevent and mitigate the suffering of populations in risk areas. This is the case for organizations working in the field of gender-based violence and food security.

To achieve this, communication equipment (HF radio) and mobile telephone networks are used to facilitate the dissemination of information among the members of the community. Individuals living in the same region can thus communicate with each other through a communication device set up by partners in the field.

In 2002, during the last volcanic eruption in Goma, the DRC and the east of the country had a limited number of telecommunications companies. This sector will undergo a strong explosion around 2003 after the Inter-Congolese dialogue of Sun City. In the wake of the agreements, companies such as Vodacom and Airtel will deploy in the cities of Goma and Bukavu. Families separated by war will reunite through digital technology.

Young people are among the first users of this new information and communication technology. On May 22, 2021, when another volcanic eruption occurs, most households will have a cell phone to communicate with family members in a country where the road infrastructure does not allow physical contact between people.

Communication deficit

Despite the development of mobile applications, the management of the crisis caused by the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano has encountered many challenges: among others, the lack of subsidies for the Goma Volcanological Observatory, a structure responsible for monitoring seismic movements . The trial and error observed at the time of the first signs of the eruption showed the limits in this area. This lack of professionalism was observed up to a week after the eruption. These excerpts, published in traditional media and social networks, confirm the perceived discomfort:

“DRC: The eruption of a second volcano near Nyiragongo was a false alarm. The Congolese government spokesman announced the eruption of another volcano near Nyiragongo that killed 34 people in Goma. In the end, this was not the case,” said AFP, 29-05-2021 13-09 / News.

Actu, in turn, informs that the team of volcanologists who left for the summit is back at the Goma Volcanological Observatory. She is reassuring and committed to always doing her job. Honoré Ciraba, who led the group, gave us good information about Nyiragongo’s activity, which is no longer a danger to erupt in any direction. False alarm on Nyamulagira. A plane has just flown over the entire area of ​​the flanks of this volcano. No rash was seen. Rather, it involved intense charcoal activity whose smoke was seen as volcanic activity. of 29/05/21 title: “Confirmed by the Military Governor of North Kivu and the National Minister of Communications and spokesman for the Congolese government, the Nyamulagira volcano has not erupted”. In the same register, Goma / security writes: “New eruption or not of the Nyamulagira volcano: Patrick Muyaya (National Minister of Communications and spokesman for the Congolese government) confirms and denies”.

In another chapter, publishes: “What I ask is that, despite the frustrations and despite the difficulties, you just have to understand that nobody was prepared and that we are now adapting the whole system so that they (Monusco staff and their families) better life”, Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC.

The fate of the displaced

It is estimated that more than 400,000 people have been displaced after the eruption of the Nyiragongo volcano. The city of Bukavu has so far received about 10,000 displaced persons. The Association of Sellers and Buyers of Domestic Re-employment for Sanitation and Integral Development, AVARMADI, has deployed its team to the port of Bukavu to accommodate disaster victims in Goma. This non-profit organization specializes in counseling young people and registers households and unaccompanied minors. In order to maintain contact with the displaced persons, Avarmadi also takes care of registering the telephone numbers of the victims.

The displaced persons, who met in the port, are aware of the role that social networks played in the disaster in Goma. The various mobile applications thus facilitated contact between members of separated families. Confronted with the flow of information, we had to be careful and cross-check it. However, an unfortunate fact to report is the interruption of the mobile money application and the inability to revoke the change from the phone.

Justin Bonjo has just arrived from Goma aboard the boat. Justin works for an international organization and is accompanied by his whole family. Justin acknowledges that telecommunications networks helped him find his relatives and validate the real information. During the crisis caused by the volcano, Justin saw digital communication as a “means of protection”.

Youth is mobilized

This category of the population has not remained indifferent to this humanitarian tragedy in the city of Goma. In Bukavu, the provincial youth council has created a framework for consultation on the reception of displaced persons. These young volunteers use social networks to raise awareness among the local community and inform displaced persons about the services available to them. According to Joëlle Sambo, coordinator of the youth council, 97 young people are assigned to the transit site of Ndendere (Bukavu) to receive the displaced. All information runs through an operational WhatsApp group that is accessible to young volunteers.

Since May 31, some local radio stations broadcast the bulletin “Volcano, our neighbor”. This fifteen-minute program informs the public about the evolution of the Goma volcano and the humanitarian situation of the displaced. This newsletter is an initiative of young journalists, supported by the NGO Internews Grands Lacs. For example, editorial teams are present in the cities of Goma, Bukavu, Kigali, Bujumbura and Kampala.