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Armed conflict and volcanic eruptions in Goma, DRC: The relevance of humanitarian standards

Jonas Habimana is the executive director of the Bureau d’Informations, Formations, Échanges et Recherches pour le Développement (BIFERD), a Sphere focal point in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and also a board member of Sphere.

Following a major eruption of Mount Nyiragongo on 22 May 2021, Jonas and his family were among those evacuated from their homes in Goma as lava approached the city. Over 3,500 homes were destroyed, and around 400,000 people were displaced.

“Humanitarian standards and principles need more promotion and application in DRC” says Habimana, “We have identified many areas which will benefit from a more principled approach, including coordination.”


“The State is in charge following a disaster like this, but they need the support of the humanitarian system. Wider adoption of Sphere standards will make it easier for the State to coordinate with humanitarian actors from various clusters, including WASH, education, health, protection, food security and shelter.”

Some of those fleeing Goma arrived in nearby towns including Sake, Minova and Rutshuru, which became the temporary home for around 165,000 displaced people[1]. State actors and politicians sent food and non-food items to these locations. Humanitarian and United Nations (UN) actors were involved in aid distribution.

“We need to work better together with the army and State actors [see page 18 of the Sphere Handbook] continues Habimana, “There were many challenges with aid distribution at these sites. There was a cascade of humanitarian aid which was not always based on a sound assessment of needs, capacities or vulnerabilities. There were reports of embezzlement leading to arrests and people boycotting the assistance because it was not appropriate. This led to frustration.”

The security situation in Eastern DRC is complex. In May 2021, Aljazeera reported that a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ituri province was targeted by armed forces resulting in many casualties[2].

“This calls into question the security of IDP sites, which is the responsibility of the State, humanitarian organisations and the UN. There are different theories as to what motivated the attacks in Ituri, but one is that aid distribution triggered feelings of inequality.”


“In this context, all actors must be constantly careful to do no harm by their actions, even if they are well-meant [see paragraph 9 of the Humanitarian Charter].”

Sphere’s philosophy includes the importance of good coordination (see Core Humanitarian Commitment 6), involving local actors (see CHS Commitment 3) and placing affected populations at the centre of decisions affecting their recovery (see Humanitarian Charter paragraph 2).

“The latest eruption of Nyiragongo was not the first. There have been two other major eruptions in living memory – in 1977 and 2002 – so the dangers and risks are known. However, it seems many lessons were not learned, or they were not passed on.”


“Training of local staff, including humanitarian and State actors, on Sphere standards will lead to better quality and more accountable assistance and better outcomes for affected people.”

The 2018 Sphere Handbook is currently being translated into the four national languages of DRC: Tshiluba, Congo-Swahili, Lingala and Kituba (Kikongo). These versions will be available as printed books and PDFs, and via the Interactive Handbook and the HSP App from Autumn 2021.

[1] https://fr.wfp.org/communiques-de-presse/le-pam-fournit-de-la-nourriture-des-milliers-de-personnes-deplacees-de-goma

[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/31/at-least-50-dead-in-two-attacks-in-eastern-dr-congo