Last Saturday, May 22, Mt Nyiragongo was again at its capricious and deadly old game. From nowhere, people in the areas around D.R. Congo’s eastern town of Goma and around Rwanda’s north-western town of Rubavu saw the volcano start to throw balls of fire into the evening sky. Then huge snakes of boiling red menace began to slither down the steep slopes towards Goma. It was not a new sight for many and all picked whatever they could and ran helter-skelter across the border and into Rwanda. They’d been caught totally unawares, so swift was the eruption. Many were lucky and made it across but some were not. So far, the death toll is estimated at slightly over 20. Quoting which number will fill any compassionate human with sorrow. Reports like to put a number on the dead but it’s a detached game in futility. Any death that occurs means more than the cold number quoted as it leaves many more souls as good as dead. It is so, too, with the destruction of property, at a lesser degree. A house, for example, is not just a collection of items like wood, dried mud, grass or cement, tiles and suchlike. It’s a place where people find comfort, warmth, cordiality, protection, et al. In short, it’s a home. In all cases, then, all vigilance and effort should be deployed to mitigate the effects of eruptions. Especially that we are not out of the woods yet. We, yes, for we are as affected as our brothers and sisters of D.R. Congo. The hot flowing lava may have stopped shy of some hundred metres from the town of Goma but, since the eruption threat is not over, any minute lava may pierce through the rocky wall of the crater collection of magma and flow down westwards into Rwanda. With a speed of sometimes upward of a 100km/h, how many residents have a chance of outracing it? As we speak, tremors that are shaking far-flung areas in D.R. Congo are equally rocking the Rwandan side to a point that they can be felt as far as the city of Kigali, about 150 km away. There is no cause for alarm, really, but next time we in this region may not be so lucky. A reason collaborative attempts at containment are imperative for a next time by the two nations. Nyiragongo Volcano has been said to be among few volcanoes in the world that are burdened with a permanent lake of lava bubbling within its summit crater. Add to this the fact that it’s neighbour to another active volcano, Mt. Nyamuragira, though less fierce, and you have a whole area that’s regularly seized in continued seismic activity. It goes to tell you that fractures may not only open in the walls of the volcanoes but also in any seemingly safe areas like the towns and villages that surround the volcanoes. Suppose, the powers of Mother Nature forbid, such a fissure were to open up and disturb the calm waters of Lake Kivu nearby. It would mean a nasty lot of things, among them releasing the undisturbed methane gas stored in the waters to combine with the hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide in the lava. The combined devastating result would decimate inhabitants of the whole area by their millions. This, therefore, calls for permanent watchdogs to monitor the area. And, in fact, such a watchdog, there is. The Goma Volcano Observatory (GVO) has been in place since 1986 and, in times before, given a reasonably good account of itself. Unfortunately, reports have it that seven months prior to the latest eruption, no work was being done. Accounts of embezzlement and looting of office property is said to have led to the World Bank cutting its funding, weakening the observatory. So much so that remote sensors lacked internet connection for regular on-sight measurements of volcano activity. With seismic data supposed to be produced every four minutes and temperature data every ten minutes, it’s understandably sad commentary on the concerned parties. To be fair to the GVO, however, it’s said there was no precursor for this eruption, no sign of immediate flare-up. Of course, without those internet-facilitated on-sight measurements, few can be convinced by this excuse. All said and done, then, better performance in observatory should be a joint effort between the two brotherly countries of D.R. Congo and Rwanda, with outsiders coming in only to supplement an initiative that the two own. A new Rubavu Volcano Observatory (RVO) would thus be established on the Rwandan side to work with the GVO to ensure strictly regular said measurements and keep their populations up to the minute with information. Where one observatory may be dogged by embezzlements and lootings, you can bet your last dime that, in the other, the littlest whiff of such a scandal will never be heard of. At least that way there will be time to evacuate populations in times of an eruption threat. At most, ways can be found to totally tame the beast of the Birunga (Kinyarwanda for mountains).