“We are helping people to return safely the city of Goma, and with experienced lawyers we are dealing with disputes related to the ownership of land destroyed by lava”, Gigliola Pantera, INTERSOS aid worker in DR Congo during those days says



North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Three months have passed since the Nyiragongo volcano erupted at the end of May, forcing thousands of people to leave the city of Goma for fear of being swept away by the lava. Our aid workers, immediately active in helping the population during those days, still remember the fear of the continuous quakes and the confusion, the flow of people on their way to Sake, the children who at first found themselves separated from their families and the needs of a population already heavily tired as a result of poverty, violence of armed groups and political instability.


Gigliola Pantera, INTERSOS head of mission who managed the emergency until July, tells us what has been done. “First – she explains – we immediately worked together with UNHCR and other local partners to identify the needs of the people during the evacuation, so that we could better coordinate the intervention. In real time – she says – we identified the people fleeing and what was needed immediately, thanks to the teams working on the field. It was a very complicated phase, also because the people of Sake, a very poor area, were not particularly welcoming, and there were continuous tensions between the different ethnic groups”. Here, the INTERSOS team worked to protect survivors of violence and unaccompanied children.


Psychological support and legal assistance to the most vulnerable people


“However, INTERSOS’s main intervention – she underlines – was in the return phase. After a week approximately, believing that the danger had ceased, the Governor appointed in those days, following the state of siege, decided that people should return to Goma. However, not everyone wanted to move back, the most vulnerable and homeless people had no interest in returning, therefore the army was sent to Sake. In order to avoid tensions and violence, we intervened with our partners to sensitise the population about the necessity to return. We provided psychological and psychosocial assistance and worked to reconnect unaccompanied children with their families. We also started a six-month project (ending in December) to manage the disputes related to land repossession. In several cases, lava flows have changed the landscape and hidden property boundaries. In the area affected by the eruption – Gigliola Pantera explains – there have always been conflicts between two ethnic groups because of the disputed land, so, when people returned, there was a high risk that urban guerrilla warfare could break out on the outskirts of Goma. INTERSOS therefore launched this project of legal assistance, with expert lawyers who managed the return in a very pragmatic way, with documents in their hands”.


Another important action undertaken in this return phase, was to raise the issue of the danger at checkpoints: INTERSOS has been advocating to the international authorities to ensure security at military checkpoints, avoiding abuses towards the vulnerable people returning to Goma. “Everything that we have done and continues to do in the area is very helpful in ensuring that everyday life can be resumed without tension. This is possible mainly thanks to an exceptional national team”, Gigliola Pantera concludes.