Case study: volcanic eruption

A view of the Rift valley in Losiolo, Kenya

Nyiragongo is a steep-sided, active volcano. It is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nyiragongo and the shield volcano of Nyamuragira, 40 km away, are part of the East African Rift Valley. This is an area of many faults where the plates are being stretched as they move away from each other.

Cause of the eruption

The eruption happened on 17 January 2002. The volcano has a lava lake in its crater. Fissures opened up to the south side of the volcano and three streams of lava from the lake drained through the fissures. The lava reached speeds of 60 km/h. There was little warning as the lava reached the city of Goma. The unrest in the country has made it difficult to monitor the volcano and put emergency responses in place.

Social impacts of the eruption (effects on people)

Houses destroyed after the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption in Goma, DR Congo

  • Homes were destroyed by ash and lava.
  • 45 people died in the first 24 hours.
  • The lava flow made it difficult to travel around Goma as it filled the roads. Aid agencies were unable to access some areas of Goma.
  • The lava took a long time to cool and it burnt people as they tried to return to their homes.
  • Cholera spread because of lack of sanitation in areas that people fled to.
  • Around 50 people were killed when fuel exploded while they were trying to siphon it off at a petrol station.
  • 14 nearby villages were destroyed in the lava flow.

Economic impacts of the eruption (effects on money and jobs)

People inspect the damage after the Nyiragongo volcano hits Goma, DR Congo

  • People returned to Goma hoping to find aid. One month after the eruption, 350,000 people were dependant on aid.
  • People lost their businesses and jobs.
  • Aviation fuel stores exploded as the lava flow damaged Goma airport.

Environmental impacts of the eruption

  • Lava covered 15 per cent of the city of Goma and destroyed 30 per cent of the city.
  • If the lava was to reach Lake Kivu, or seismic activity disrupted the lake, then dangerous gases of carbon dioxide and methane could be released from the floor of the lake.