Congo

Communities still at risk after Brazzaville explosion; aid agencies hampered

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Almost three months after the tragic explosion at the ECCRAMU1 munitions depot in the Republic of Congo's capital, Brazzaville, residents of the surrounding Mpila neighbourhood remain at risk of death or injury from unstable projectiles scattered by the blast.

The blast, on 4 March 2012, killed more than 280 people and injured 1,500. It is believed to have been caused by a fire as a result of an electrical fault.

Those who lost or evacuated their homes – the number made homeless is estimated at 14,000, many of whom are now living in makeshift camps – have been unable to return due to the ongoing threat.

The problem doesn’t stop there: humanitarian agencies distributing medical supplies and assisting with the clear-up operation have been unable to reach those in need because of the widespread contamination.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal

Working with the Congolese Armed Forces and United Nations Mine Action Service, four MAG Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams have been carrying out Battle Area Clearance in the area of the blast's epicentre, while eight Community Liaison teams have continued to deliver safety briefings and Risk Education sessions to vulnerable people in the 5km damage radius of the explosion.

MAG EOD teams removed 259,767 dangerous items during April, clearing 63,810m² of contaminated land. The EOD teams also carried out 62 spot tasks in residential areas.

Community Liaison

In April, 32,705 people benefitted from MAG’s Community Liaison and Risk Education activities, including safety briefings and the distribution of more than 2,000 leaflets and 300-plus posters. In addition, data gathering on contamination levels in areas adjacent to the epicentre of the blast was carried out.

Children, naturally inquisitive and attracted to new 'toys' they find, need special attention, so ten billboards with a comic strip design have been produced and set up in schools in the affected neighbourhoods, this on top of the formal Risk Education sessions.

Sessions and training on Risk Education delivery were carried out for 39 staff members of aid organisations. And 175 members of local authorities affected by the explosion also received Risk Education; it is expected these people will become central to the reporting of information on contamination in their neighbourhoods.

Future plans

The current phase of the emergency response operation will run until mid-September 2012. Current operations are viewed as part of a long-term, sustainable response, and MAG is actively seeking funding to continue its work in the Republic of Congo in order to reduce the likelihood of a future tragic event of this nature.

There have been more than 50 unplanned explosions at munitions sites (UEMS) in 34 countries since 2009, and five in the last five months alone.

There are numerous depots across the globe where authorities store various state-held weapons and munitions, in various conditions. A range of causes of UEMS include lightning, electrical faults, degrading and unstable munitions and poor management practise.

Best known for its contribution to Humanitarian Mine Action, MAG has been delivering ammunition safety management projects, in collaboration with State authorities, for the past five years.