Goma Ghost Town - The Democratic Republic of The Congo
Goma has got to count as one of the most unfortunate places on the planet. As late as 2007 it had a population of half a million people but the effects of its position on the border of two volatile countries, tribal violence and seismic activity have rendered large parts of it as a ghost town and the disasters may not have finished yet.
In 1990 Uganda had invaded parts of Rwanda and forced many refugees to flee south. They were pursued by a rebel army supported by Uganda. The result of this was a large influx of refugees to the city of Goma and its surrounding area. Lack of sanitation then caused a wide scale cholera epidemic that killed thousands and forced many to leave the camps.
A mix of tribes, Hutu and Tutsi led to conflict in and around the camp with Hutu factions using the camp as a base to attack Rwandan forces. The Rwandan army tired of this and retaliated against the camp killing thousands in reprisals and counter attacks.
A fragile peace held for a year then a second conflagration began which saw huge numbers of deaths from ethnic cleansing. The events from this time are well documented in the film Hotel Rwanda. Ongoing infractions continue to cost the lives of thousands of Gomans and in 2008 alone, 200,000 people left the city, fearful of their lives.
Not content with leaving Goma to its human destructors, the volcano Nyiragongo erupted in 2002 causing a river of lava up to a kilometre wide, two metres deep through the city and down to the shore of Lake Kivu. More than 40% of the city was destroyed. Whilst an early warning enabled most Gomans to evacuate, there were still many fatalities caused by the asphyxiating carbon dioxide gas released by the volcano. The lava also engulfed most of the city’s airport, reducing the capacity for humanitarian aid and protection to enter the area by air. In 2005, volcanic activity again threatened the city causing many who remembered the events of three years earlier to leave the city.
Now, as Goma enters a quieter period, although still one with the threat of tribal violence, a new terror awaits.
Lake Kivu is one of three in the area which, through volcanic activity, has large amounts of carbon dioxide and other gases dissolved near its base. The two other lakes in the area have released large quantities of their gases in what is called a limnic eruption. These caused the death through asphyxiation of nearly 2,000 people. Any further seismic activity in the area is likely to cause a similar event around Lake Kivu which worryingly is 2,000 times bigger. Scientists fear a limnic event could well kill the majority of the two million people that live around the lake including the remaining residents of Kivu. The event could be more devastating as Kivu also has large quantities of the toxic methane gas in its depths.
The future doesn’t look good for Goma and its people which is why many parts of it are deserted. Whilst the recent history of the city is tragic and at once also curious, visiting the ghost city of Goma should probably be low on your list of priorities unless you want to become one of the city’s ghosts yourself.