I know blogs are supposed to be an instantaneous source of news; however, given that I work in emergencies— the likelihood of me getting to a computer and blogging about it is pretty limited. None-the-less, I apologize that this post is coming a couple of weeks too late.

If you didn’t hear, at around 8:30 at night on February 16th, an accident at a military dump in the south of Dar es Salaam caused over 23 barracks of ammunition to explode (rumor has it that over 10 tonnes of munitions exploded, which I am inclined to believe, given the fact that the blast lasted for over an hour).

Within hours of the blast, over 5,000 people were displaced, nearly 1000 children went missing, 388 were injured, and just last week, 27 civilians were confirmed dead (military personnel deaths were not reported). Given that this is not the first time that a military munitions dump has caused extensive injuries and death, there was an instant widespread panic.

In terms of emergency response, I think it went really well. Red Cross volunteers were deployed in a few hours after the blast — trying to gather people (specifically, mothers and children) to the national stadium which was called as the focal point for victims. I was there the next day and some of the volunteers had been there since 1 am, and didn’t stop until night fall the next day. Radio and TV messages were broadcast by 10pm that night, instructing a 10km radius of Gongo la Mboto base to be evacuated, citing the national stadium as a safe haven. By morning, supplies of biscuits, water, food were distributed to the thousands that gathered at the stadium.

Within days, everyone was moved back into the affected area. Nearly 100 homes were completely destroyed, but they were given tents, and other facilities to cope before they begin to rebuild.

As for the children that were missing parents, of the 850 that came to the stadium, all were reunited with their families within days. Of the 200 parents missing children, the process took a bit longer. People scattered in the night, some children were taken into other people’s households. There is a fear now,  that these children will be absorbed into households and be used as domestic workers. I do no know the exact figure of the children that are still missing, but I know that Save the Children and the Red Cross have been continuing to canvas neighborhoods to find them.

What I was really impressed with was at the national stadium the Scouts stepped in to help disseminate food and water. I saw them a few days later and they were there playing with the children who were missing their parents.  The scouts themselves could not have been older than 13, and I think they really played a vital role in the response.

This was my first real emergency that I was able to be involved in. Due to the relative lack of emergencies in Tanzania, we mainly focus on preparedness.  It was a really interesting experience to how the UN is able (or in some ways) unable to respond. The government didn’t ask for international assistance (which is needed before the UN can be involved), thus UNICEF largely played a coordination role and gave support where it was needed.  I was fortunate to be apart of a later assessment by the UNICEF and an emergency meeting where all international/national NGOs, government, and UN agencies were involved to resolve any continuing gaps. I won’t go into details on this here, but if you are interested, I’d be more than happy to fill you in on the process.

What I found most interesting frustrating  is how the news portrayed the blasts. It didn’t take international news organizations long to throw up head lines like, “Tanzania rocked by explosions”  or “Explosions cause mayhem in Tanzania”.  When I felt the explosions in my room and was getting phone calls about the blasts, I went straight to the internet to see what was happening. Your mind automatically goes to “terrorism” and you feel this panic.  I really didn’t think the media was very helpful (expect for some local media that helped in the response phase).  I mean, yes this is a horrible event, yes, people were affected, but they reported it as if it was much worse than it really was and there was no useful information on there, such as where exactly it was, who was affected, what the response was. They make it seem like no one is helping and give no information that really helps you. They like to report on missing children, but provide no follow up story on what happened to them. I have no idea why this surprises me….

It will be interesting to see is how the government intends on preventing this again. Seeing as this sort of thing seems to happen around the world, especially when states are no longer in conflict, I think am going to have to brush up on munitions risk management.

A few links: