Republic of Congo: Aid workers help thousands hit by arms depot blasts
15 March, 2012
The UN and its partners are helping to clear up unexploded ammunition scattered by the arms depot explosions that killed more than 200 people in Brazzaville earlier this month, amid concerns over the dangers it poses to life and health.
A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team is now in Congo assessing the situation and determining any possible exposure to contamination and unexploded ordnance.
The team is working with the UN Mine Action Service to coordinate mine action work and ways to secure the area. So far, 244 items weighing up to 1,520 kilograms have been removed. Unexploded ordnance typically includes landmines, grenades and other explosive ammunition.
“We need to factor these environmental hazards into humanitarian response efforts as early as possible to prevent unnecessary harm or deaths, and to allow for a return to normalcy as soon as possible,” said Alain Pasche, an environmental expert who heads the UNDAC team in the country. “We are working closely with the Congolese authorities and helping them respond to this tragic event.”
Another environmental expert has joined the team to collect samples to be analysed in Switzerland for potential soil and water contamination. Structural engineers from the UN and the European Union are on the ground to assess the extent of the damage on schools, hospitals and other buildings.
More than 200 people were killed and 3,000 injured in the explosions on 4 March, and about 15,000 remain homeless. Hospitals are overcrowded and many people have sought refuge in churches and sports stadiums.
OCHA is helping to coordinate the humanitarian response through UN aid workers who have arrived from Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UN agencies and non-governmental organizations are working closely with the Government to provide aid to the affected communities.
The UN Refugee Agency has distributed tents, plastic sheeting, mats, blankets, mosquito nets, soap and cooking utensils to thousands of people, and will register displaced people and manage encampments.
The World Food Programme is distributing food to hospitals and displaced people. The World Health Organization continues to provide medical emergency services, and the UN Children’s Fund has shipped in school kits to help children whose schools have been damaged.