• A report issued by UNREC highlights three main security priorities, including the safe destruction of unexploded explosives; the provision of education and training for military personnel and other partners on the handling and storage of explosive material; and the necessity to improve the design of ammunition storage infrastructures.
• While some 50 patients remain hospitalized, the health situation is improving. Priorities include rehabilitation, physiotherapy, and psychological support, particularly for children. WHO warns of heightened risk of increase in COVID-19 cases in Bata.
• Shelter, WASH, and food security remain a priority as many displaced families have moved inland, while others continue to live in heavily damaged buildings. Loss of income, assets and livelihood are of important concern too.
Preliminary findings from the multi-sector needs assessments, concluded on Wednesday 24 March, confirm damages to buildings, electricity lines and water supply in Nkuantoma military camp and its surrounding areas up to three kilometres away. Nkuantoma, a neighbourhood located to the northwest of the explosion site is a community of about 600 families and was the most affected. 80 per cent of the houses suffered some type of damage, particularly to the ceiling and windows. Of these, 30 per cent have been destroyed and are not habitable. In Razel, a community to the south of the explosion site, 315 families have suffered heavy damages. Those affected have sought shelter in other provinces, or with friends or relatives or sought assistance from charity groups. There are anectodical sources reporting that some houses are currently hosting up to 27 people.
The assessment teams observed that at least 10 per cent of affected families have started to repair their homes.
These are better-off households. However, many are likely to rely on the government and humanitarian partners for assistance. Most of the affected families own property (only a few were renting accommodation). Consequently, the most urgent priority expressed by the affected families is to receive support in repairing and/or reconstructing their destroyed homes. Both food items and NFIs were also recognized as vital due to heavy losses suffered during the blast. The situation is further deteriorating with the start of the rainy season. Families whose roofs were damaged by the blast must now endure flooding from the rain, with an increased risk of water-borne diseases.
While 50 patients remain hospitalized, the health situation continues to improve. However, there are concerns that some injured persons may not have sought medical assistance. Some patients are also returning to hospitals after their initial dismissal. Children were particularly affected by the blasts. In addition to physical injuries, children who were separated from their parents suffer from psychological distress, linked to the uncertainty of their immediate future in terms of accommodation and fear of occurrence of other explosions. WHO has reported a heightened risk of increases in COVID-19 cases in the aftermath of the blast in Bata. Health officials report that lack of health waste management capacity at the city’s hospitals poses a major concern and requires urgent attention to prevent other infections. Current priorities in health are rehabilitation, physiotherapy, and psychological support, particularly for children. Furthermore, the number of HIV patients receiving antiretroviral treatment (ARV) has dropped by 23 per cent, while those receiving HIV services has decreased since the blast. UNAIDS will be discussing the launch of a follow-up campaign on HIV with national health authorities, to help prevent an increase of new HIV infections among displaced people.
There are concerns that the consequences from the explosions are compounding other vulnerabilities. Equatorial Guinea has one of the highest prevalence rates of gender-based violence according to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS 2011). 62.8 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have suffered from some form of violence since the age of 15. UNFPA is working on a GBV survey to help identify needs and protection concerns.
Children and women are the most affected in terms of protection. The Remar orphanage, which housed 70 adolescents before the explosion, suffered substantial damage and the residents had to be transferred to Somagec, about six kilometres away. The loss of livelihoods combined with the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in child labour. Equally worrying is the situation of the elderly as the initial response has prioritized finding shelter for minors however many elderly people remain in their damaged homes. Disabled victims also require support to get back to their normal life. Displaced families are often separated, and the situation is expected to worsen if temporary shelter needs continue to be unmet.
Water sources are entirely damaged in the central part of the explosion area. Several wells in the residential areas close to the military camp are damaged and likely polluted. Generally, water supply in Nkuantoma is provided through wells and tanks with localized distribution networks. The community has expressed concern over the quality of the water. A further assessment of the soil and water contamination is of priority, as there is fear of contamination of wells and rivers because of water runoff and erosion of explosive residues. Water, hygiene, and sewage systems need to be part of the immediate humanitarian response, but at the same time, the Government should consider a longer-term policy on WASH.
A total of 24 preschools, primary and secondary schools (9 public and 15 private) and two university faculties (humanities and religious science, and pedagogy and education science) have been affected by the explosions. An estimated 7,000 students have been affected by the blast. Schools had been closed for one month before the blast due to COVID-19. This closure has been extended for an additional two weeks following the blast. While systems are in place for distance learning, there is a risk that children may drop out of schools. UNESCO has supported the Director of Planning and Education to develop a questionnaire for better data collection. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF and UNESCO have conducted interviews with the directors and teachers from the affected schools to assess and ensure continuity of education given the movement of affected families.
Markets and small businesses in the affected areas have also suffered from damages. The loss of incomes and assets affect households’ food intake. Consumption gaps were reported during the assessments and further depletion of active capital is likely to hinder the affected households’ ability to cope with the situation. This implies a risk of malnutrition. An early recovery and livelihood plan is being developed and will target income recovery and market revitalization. Elderly people were identified as most vulnerable as they are unable to access to food markets, drinking water and often living in destroyed accommodation. Food assistance is required to address the immediate needs of affected families.
Identification, mapping, removal, and destruction of unexploded ordnances have advanced, but waste-picking and informal recycling are of concern. There is a need to further assess soil/water contamination. Explosion debris mixed with ammunition has been found at a waste dump located near the blast site. On 24 March, as reported by authorities, ammunition exploded at a garbage burning site, days after another explosion at the dump was reported, causing panic among the population.
Immediate priorities include shelter, food, protection for orphans and elderly people as well as female-headed families, psychological support for victims, WASH, livelihood support for those left homeless, and a comprehensive survey of the environment.
The UN Resident Coordinator (RC) accompanied by the UNDAC Team Leader and UNREC representative conducted a series of dialogues with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defence and the National Emergency Response Committee chaired by the Minister of Interior. The RC shared an update on the work being done by respective UN teams on the ground. The RC underlined coordination mechanisms put in place both under the Humanitarian and Security pillars. She discussed challenges observed and proposed remedial measures under both the humanitarian and security pillars and emphasized the urgency for immediate interventions by local authorities to reinforce access to humanitarian support, strengthen protection to reduce illegal trafficking of weapons and ammunition and fence the military camp to prevent people and children from entering. The regional director of UNREC presented the work being carried out in the framework of securing the explosion area, mainly against some unexploded devices that still present a risk to the population, coordinating the collection and identification of materials for their subsequent safe detonation. From the initial report, he explained the possible cause of the explosions and provided recommendations in three specific areas: (i) safe destruction of unexploded explosives; (ii) education and training of national military personnel and other national partners on the handling and storage of explosive material; (iii) improving the design of ammunition storage infrastructures preferably of underground construction. UNREC will offer their support to the government in the implementation of these recommendations. The UNDAC Team Leader presented the international response coordination structure established in support of the national response, joint needs assessments, information management and humanitarian financing plans.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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