Researchers at the Eastern Congolese Observatory said Saturday that they could have predicted the deadly eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in May if their work had not been hampered by alleged mismanagement and misappropriation.
At least 31 people were killed when the volcano sent a wall of lava that spread to Goma on May 22, destroying 3,000 homes along the way and cutting a major road used to provide relief in the region torn by the rift.
In a public letter to President Felix Chishekedi, OVG workers who monitor Nyiragongo said the organization was crippled by overdue salaries, misappropriation of funding, harassment of employees and other issues.
“The recent eruption of Nyiragongo could have been predicted by OVG researchers if it weren’t for all the problems,” they said, demanding back pay and nominating new management.
Representatives of the current OVG Steering Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
In late May, the president’s office said it would pay all overdue OVG salaries and unpaid operating expenses, promising to replace obsolete or damaged equipment.
Prior to the latest eruption, OVG volcanologists struggled to conduct regular basic inspections because the World Bank had not renewed funding amid allegations of embezzlement.
From October to April, the observatory could not conduct full seismic inspections of the volcano because analysts lacked an Internet connection. However, volcano observers say the eruption was not easily predictable.
“Even if there were more tools, I don’t think we would have known in advance,” said Francois Kervin, head of GeoRiskA, which monitors geological hazards in Africa. “It surprised us that it happened very abruptly.”
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