The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing criticism over a growing humanitarian crisis in the east of the country, as thousands of people who fled Goma after a volcanic eruption lack shelter, food and drinking water.
Mount Nyiragongo erupted on May 22 and sent lava flow down a slope that left a trail of destruction and killed dozens of people.
About 400,000 people in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in eastern DRC, have had to flee.
While many fled to Rutshuru in the north and Minova in South Kivu province, up to a quarter went to Sake, about 30 km (18 miles) to the northwest.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) told the AFP news agency that between 100,000 and 180,000 people had taken refuge in Sake, adding to the 70,000 people in the area, and said the cholera was a risk as the area struggled to absorb the impact.
Many of the refugees who took refuge in the city of Sake complained about the lack of state support and said they wanted to return home, although it remained dangerous amid ongoing earthquakes and the risk of further eruptions.
“Life is not easy here. I have been sick for two days, I have no one to express my grief to be taken back to my city, ”Claudine Sinziyimana, a widow who fled the volcanic eruption, told Al Jazeera.
“It is better to die with the gas of the volcano than to starve inside [the town of] Sake, ”he added.
President Felix Tshisekedi said on Saturday that the situation in Goma is “serious but under control”.
He advised those who fled from them not to return yet, after a week of retorts.
“There is an underground lava flow that can arise at any time anywhere in the city,” Tshisekedi warned.
“Lava is no longer in the crater, but the volcano is still active, so we have to be careful and that’s why we don’t want to rush things back to the populations,” he said.
A report from the Goma Volcano Observatory (OVG) on Saturday said 61 earthquakes had shaken the area in the previous 24 hours.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said after the eruption that more than 4,500 homes were destroyed by lava, which affected about 20,000 people.
While many of Sake’s displaced people are housed in places of worship and community centers, many do not have any kind of shelter.
“Our house was burned by the volcano. We lost our business too because of the volcano. We spent the night in a 19-person house with other displaced people, ”said Clarice Matofali.
“We are suffocated [feeling suffocated] due to a large number in a small house. If the government can’t feed us, at least give us a place to sleep here, ”he added.
MSF said they have been deployed to address water shortages, providing supplies and distributing water by tanker trucks, but that more is needed and has cited food, shelter and medicines as other primary needs.
“This crisis requires immediate assistance and intervention,” Magali Roudaut, head of the Goma-based MSF mission in the DRC, told AFP.
The army has said aid is on its way to the region. But many displaced people are wondering why they have not yet received any government support a week after the eruption.
“Since we left Goma, we have had no help. We are eating with difficulty. The special food here is porridge. Our children will starve to death, ”Kabugho Malimingi said.
“I have seven children, two of whom already have diarrhea due to the bad water in this village. May the government help us. Either give us food or bring us home, ”he said.
International aid organizations are already very present in Goma, which has been devastated by 30 years of violence by dozens of armed groups, many of them a legacy of two regional wars that lasted from 1996 to 2003.
In addition to the trials of the displaced, hundreds of children were separated from their parents in the exodus, a situation that humanitarian organizations are rushing to address.
Additional reports from Ezra Tsongo to Sake.