Thousands of people remain homeless in the Republic of Congo (ROC) one year after being displaced following a deadly munitions blast at an army barracks in the capital, Brazzaville. The 4 March 2012 blast, in the area of Mpila, east of the capital, left some 282 people dead and 2,300 others injured, according to officials.
“We have not relocated all those affected to date. We are relocating them gradually, as we are building houses on selected sites,” Emilienne Raoul, the ROC minister for humanitarian action, told IRIN.
“For a long time, the disaster-affected have remained traumatized, especially the children. It’s difficult to forget this disaster,” Raoul continued.
Thousands of people who were left homeless after the March 2012 blast – which was actually a series of explosions – sought refuge in several sites around the capital.
At present, at least 1,400 people are still living in tents at site number 17, west of Brazzaville.
In the surburb of Kintélé, 25km north of Brazzaville, the ROC government has built houses on 10 hectares of land. About 300 affected families have already been settled there.
“Here, we have the bare minimum: water, electricity, modern toilets and sanitation,” Ago Ngoulou, 43, told IRIN. Ngoulou is living in Kintélé after losing all his property in the explosions. “But transport is a headache. The site is far from the city centre.”
Most of those affected by the blasts have returned to the area of Mpila, where 2,000 families have received tents for shelter. Conditions there are difficult.
“We set up the tents between the sides of the walls of our destroyed hoses. We are at the mercy of the elements, insects and dangerous animals such as snakes,” complained army Sgt Jules Engambé.
In the vicinity, vegetation grown over the shells of burnt up military tanks and vehicles.
The ROC government has set aside some 60 billion CFA (US$120 million) to assist the affected households – about 50 people crippled in the blast will receive a monthly allowance of 140,000 francs ($280).
In September 2012, the ROC government and China signed a number of financial agreements totalling 970 million euros (about $1.2 billion), most of which will go towards reconstructing Mpila. Reconstruction work will start in 2013, in consultation with the land owners, according to the planning minister, Jean-Jacques Bouya.
The process of decontaminating the explosion site, which started days after the early 2012 blasts, is expected to end on 31 March, the proposed date for the start of the reconstruction work.
“The munitions that were exploded were scattered over a 3km radius,” said Cpt Cyr Andsi, the mine clearance head, adding that quality controls had been carried out to ensure the safety of people in Mpila.
Members of an inquest into the cause of the 4 March 2012 explosions in Mpila initially suspected that the blasts had been due to an electric fault. But according to the ROC prosecutor Essamy Ngatsé, “This theory no longer holds.”
At least 30 people have so far been arrested and charged, among them 23 military officers who were said to have breached state security and committed arson. But their case files have, for a long time, been circulating between various offices of the judiciary, including the court of appeals and the supreme court.
“If the trial proceeds based on this cacophony that we have observed, it’s hard to believe that it will be a just and fair trial,” said Roche Euloge Nzobo of the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH).