On 4 March 2012, a series of explosions occurred in a munitions depot in Brazzaville, killing more than 280 people and injuring 1,500. Read more
Why MAG is needed in the Republic of Congo
Between 1993 and 2003, the Republic of Congo (RoC) experienced successive periods of internal conflict. These were triggered by rising ethnic and political tensions provoked by moves to replace the one-party regime that had governed the country for most of the post-independence period.
The conflict was finally ended by a peace accord signed in 2003 that enabled the Government, led by President Sassou-Ngeusso, to launch a programme to demobilise former combatants and strengthen democratic institutions.
Some remnants of the civil war militias remain active in the Pool region, many have yet to disarm, and most have turned to banditry.
Despite previous weapons destruction conducted by MAG and other international bodies, the Republic of Congo continues to be significantly contaminated by explosive remnants of war.
Many weapons and items of unexploded ordnance (UXO) are stored in military depots in highly populated areas, in conditions which pose a threat to human security. The presence of unsecured weapons and ammunition, with limited means of monitoring and control, provides opportunities for militia groups to rearm and could encourage illicit trade across any of five bordering countries.
Communities living and working close to military zones and depots are often at risk from ammunition store explosions, a threat which was realised on 4 March 2012 with the explosion of a munitions depot located at a military barracks in a densely populated area in the east of Brazzaville.
Successive explosions destroyed homes and buildings within the immediate vicinity and caused damage within a 5km radius, including across the river in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An estimated 282 people lost their lives and more than 1,500 were injured in the explosion. Amid the destruction, the surrounding residential neighborhood was heavily contaminated by the fallout from the blast, included large amounts of UXO from war-grade weapons, including mortars, rockets and other projectiles.
Around 14,000 people were made homeless following the explosion, with aid agencies initially unable to assist evacuees and the homeless, because of the risk of further explosions.
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How MAG is helping in the RoC
In March 2012, MAG completed the implementation of the EU-funded project “UXO Clearance of the Maya-Maya ‘La Poudrière’ site”, on the outskirts of Brazzaville. Under this project, MAG conducted Battle Area Clearance (BAC) and Community Liaison activities at a 26,000m² site surrounding a former munitions depot adjacent to Brazzaville International Airport, which had exploded during the last civilian conflict in June 1997.
As the only Humanitarian Mine Action operator on the ground, MAG was well-placed to respond in the aftermath of the munitions depot explosion, and launched an urgent Emergency Response operation.
MAG’s international team responded immediately, and the Congolese Ministry of Foreign Affairs accepted MAG’s offer of assistance to clear and secure the contaminated area, in coordination with the FAC. MAG subsequently deployed an emergency response capacity, enhanced by the deployment of personnel from other country programmes.
Two days following the blasts, three MAG technical staff deployed to the site of the explosion alongside the FAC and United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), to carry out an initial assessment of the extent of contamination and the residual danger to surrounding communities.
Since the assessment, MAG has worked closely with the United Nations Mine Action Team, the Congolese authorities and other humanitarian organisations to provide a coordinated response to the clearance and securing of the contaminated area.
Under a six-month Emergency Response project, MAG is currently deploying four Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams composed of seconded FAC personnel, to conduct clearance of the core contaminated zone, as well as to carry out emergency spot tasks in residential areas adjacent to the blast site.
To date, these technical teams have cleared 143,195m2 of contaminated land, collected and removed 536,410 munitions, carried out nine demolitions destroying 32,817kg of munitions, and conducted 232 spot tasks.
Clearance operations have been supported by a Community Liaison capacity composed of eight CL teams who have delivered 7,639 safety briefings and 895 formal Risk Education sessions to a total of 84,294 beneficiaries.
Through clearance and Community Liaison activities, the current project is benefitting civilians living in the radius of the blast zone, within the sectors that MAG has been tasked to. These include:
• Vulnerable populations living in affected neighbourhoods, who have received emergency and ongoing Risk Education through door-to-door techniques and formally organised sessions.
• Children, the most likely group to pick up dangerous objects, who have been targeted by the delivery of Risk Education in 34 schools within a 1.5km radius of the explosion site.
• The homeless and evacuees housed in eight temporary internally displaced persons camps situated around Brazzaville, who received Risk Education the initial stages of the project, prior to their return home.
• Students at a school for children with special needs, who received Risk Education messages using appropriate tools and communication, according to their capacity to receive messages.
• Front line response workers, who received Risk Education in order to facilitate safe access for the delivery humanitarian assistance, vital services, medical care, and support to the homeless and evacuated. This included the training of 70 Red Cross volunteers, seven INCEF staff (an NGO delivering aid to IDP camps), and 30 staff from Shelter Box-Rotary International, delivering tents in affected neighbourhoods and IDP camps.
• Civilians living in or adjacent to high risk areas, who are threatened by unexploded projectiles, as well as large quantities of propellant spread in high grass and posing a significant risk of fire and further explosion.
• An estimated 4,000 people per day transiting the main road have benefited from the reopening of this route, which is one of the city’s main axes, and local business will benefit from the clearance of a commercial/industrial area within the zone.
• Members of the FAC seconded to clearance teams will benefit from training and ongoing mentoring, contributing to the formation of a sustainable national EOD capacity.
More about MAG's work in RoC
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Page last updated: September 2012