The eastern Congo probably ranks as one of the most difficult places to live in the world. For years this figurative hot spot was wracked with civil war and regional war, displacing thousands of people into refugee camps, with spectre of genocide in Rwanda and Burundi constantly looming over the population. While a shaky peace currently exists in and around Goma – a city that was once the flash point during much of the Congo Civil War – locals now turn their focus to the real hotspot that looms over their towns and cities: the Nyiragongo Volcano
In 2002 during the midst of the Second Congo War, when things couldn’t be any worse for Goma, Mount Nyiragongo erupted and sent a river of lava through the heart of the city only to stop at the shores of Lake Kivu. Over 15% of the city was destroyed and hundreds upon thousands of people were displaced. Even though another volcanic eruption is more and more likely in the near future, residents aren’t going to let another disaster stop them. Instead, local business are taking advantage of Mount Nyiragongo’s activity to promote volcano tourism and are starting to attract travelers with a taste for adventure. It seems charging visitors $300 for a trip up the volcano is a far better economic option than other job opportunities in Goma, many of which pay less than a $1 per day.
Aside from the threat of the volcano, there are viable opportunities for tourism around Goma, Lake Kivu, and Virunga National Park, if the region can maintain some sort of stability for more than a couple of years. Some of the richest biodiversity in the world lies in and around eastern Congo (if it isn’t being destroyed by loggers or cut down by subsistence farmers) with some of the most famous animals in the world, such as the Eastern Lowland and Mountain Gorillas (if they aren’t killed off by the former as well as poachers.) Ok, so the news is pretty grim, not to mention the fact that Mount Nyiragongo could erupt again, threatening the local population. There is also the possibility of a limnic eruption from Lake Kivu. However, it pays to be optimistic, and for the people of Goma the time is now to bring in the dollars and capitalize on this burgeoning tourist destination.