Working in the Kivu region

Picture of the Bulengo Refugees Camp, west of Goma (March 2008).


The Kivu region is located east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The city of Goma (~700.000) is the administrative centre of the North Kivu Province and also a strategic economic centre for the Great Lakes Region. The main localities in its vicinity are Sake, 20 km ENE of Goma, and the neighboring Rwandese city of Gisenyi. The region is strongly marked by the presence of the active volcanoes Nyiragongo and Nyamulagira.  At the southern end of Lake Kivu, the city of Bukavu (~ 250.000 inhabitants) is the administrative centre of the South Kivu Province. That densely populated city is settled on a hilly topography, where landslides are frequent, like on the western side of the Kivu basin.

Local context

For years and for various and complex reasons, the Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered from a constant degradation of its economy. In the eastern part of the country, the political instability and the recurrent wars have led to drastic consequences for the population, which is often forced to flee its land. The insecurity and the precarious situation of most of the services are responsible for a survival-type economy, which is partly dependent from the international aid.

In this context the achievement of the public services tasks is often compromised or very difficult, as it is especially the case for the research institutes like the Goma Volcano Observatory. They often rely on external support through isolated projects, rarely by a global approach with a long-term vision. In that context, scientific or services activities and projects are facing a variety of problems involving delays and, sometimes, rending some tasks simply not achievable. The GORISK project experience has however demonstrated that the huge energy spent into tedious management struggles can be worthy (e.g. the follow-up of the 2010 Nyamulagira eruption). Such a success proves that it is possible to work in the Kivu region and highlights the value of the work performed and the results obtained.

Field access restriction in the Goma region

Local insecurity and unrest often limit field access to -at least part of- the Goma region. Access to the Nyamulagira lava flow field is usually not possible without being under armed escort. The ascent of Nyiragongo requires the protection of an armed escort of the ICCN gards, who are responsible for the protection of the Virunga National Park. The volcano was however almost inaccessible for most of 2008- early 2010 period because of insecurity. Since April 2012, Nyiragongo is, once again, inaccessible for security reasons. But the reopening of the volcano for tourists is planned in the following months.

Ground-based instruments of the Goma Volcano Observatory and the GORISK scientific network are located in areas selected upon criteria based on geophysical relevance, accessibility, and security concerns, the last being unfortunately the most constraining criteria. Every station has to be protected by permanent guard and armed sentinels.

In this context, one of the most sustainable way to study and monitor volcanic activity in the Goma region is currently remote sensing. This assertion was, for example, confirmed during the eruption of Nyamulagira in January 2010. When field access was impossible and observations during helicopter flights were highly limited due to bad weather conditions, systematic SAR image acquisition using ENVISAT satellite allowed the GORISK team providing the local authorities with first information on fissures and vent locations, as well as on the extent of the event (i.e. ground deformation, lava flow lengths and directions).