(Reuters) – Standing on the serrated edge of Mount Nyiragongo’s crater in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, volcanologist Honore Ciraba peered into the lens of a device measuring changes in the size of the volcano’s rim.
The readings, along with earthquake, temperature and gas data, are crucial to the region’s early warning system for the nearby city of Goma, to avoid a repeat of the 2002 eruption when 250 people died and 120,000 were made homeless.
Increased volcanic activity and other indicators have experts fretting that another eruption could be on the way.
But after the World Bank cut funding amid embezzlement allegations, Ciraba and colleagues at the Goma Volcano O10bservatory (OVG) are struggling to make even basic checks.
“If we don’t do regular measurements and announce the eruption a few days beforehand, the population won’t have time to evacuate and people will die,” said Ciraba, 65, who’s devoted his life to trudging up the 3,470m cone to study its activity.
With the coffers empty, Ciraba’s team has been unable to pay for an internet connection to run remote sensors and fuel to transport researchers to the volcano.
They have to manually download data on memory cards during the handful of occasions they visit the volcano every year, OVG staff said.
The World Bank declined to renew a four-year, $2 million funding programme.
The OVG “lacked experience, and there were weaknesses in implementing such a grant,” the World Bank said in a statement. It added that it could not corroborate allegations of graft.
The World Bank said it upheld high anti-corruption standards and strict guidelines for procurement and financial management.
In April, 2020, Congo government’s Office for Good Governance and the Fight against Corruption (OBLC), a local ombudsman, opened an investigation, seizing bank records and invoices from OVG.
Despite indications of graft, authorities suspended the investigation two weeks later and it remains incomplete, sources at OBLC told Reuters. OVG’s management and the government of Congo did not respond to requests for comment.