Update No.97/04 on ICRC activities in the Republic of the Congo-Brazzaville
24-12-1997 Operational Update
General Denis Sassou Nguesso seized power in October after more than four months of devastating civil war which cost an estimated 10,000 lives. Despite apparent attempts to stabilize the country and the recent announcement of the forthcoming forum on unity and national reconciliation (January), the security situation in the country remains extremely precarious. The Angolan armed forces who entered the country just before Sassou Nguesso's victory remain and maintain their presence along the road and railway from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire and the airport. The tragic death of a Congolese Red Cross (CRC) volunteer and serious injury to two others on 22 November were a sad testimony to the potentially explosive situation. In the latest incident (17 December), an ICRC delegate and national staff were caught in crossfire at Gobila beach. Fortunately no casualties were reported but it further underlines the volatility of the security situation in the capital. Shots are commonly heard from the Brazzaville hospital where bullet wounds are treated on a daily basis. Some steps were introduced in December to improve the law and order situation there and security forces are now deployed in Brazzaville where cars and passengers are checked for weapons. However, having met with President Sassou Nguesso, the Ministers for Internal Affairs and National Solidarity and the local authorities and on the basis of the above-mentioned measures, the ICRC delegation has decided to fully continue with its plan of action in order to address the humanitarian consequences of the situation. In response to the rise in needs, ICRC activities in Congo-Brazzaville will be run from the Brazzaville office which will function as a separate delegation from early 1998.
In Geneva, discussions between the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (the Federation) have been held to establish a common approach to the operation. It has been agreed between both institutions that, as long as a potentially conflictual situation prevails in the country, the ICRC will assume the lead of the Red Cross operations in favour of the victims. This situation will be jointly reviewed in three months time. The ICRC delegations in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the Federation's regional delegation in Kinshasa and the National Society are co-operating closely in order to avoid duplication of efforts, to support the positive image of the Movement and to strengthen the National Society's capacities based on the recent relief operation experiences.
In order to ease the return of the internally displaced and refugees in some 69 camps on the southern outskirts of Brazzaville, the ICRC is distributing food, blankets, jerrycans, soap, plastic sheeting an d cooking utensils to the most vulnerable. In Kintele, north of Brazzaville, some 5,000 displaced persons have received plastic sheeting and jerrycans. A joint assessment of those who have already returned home is being carried out in co-operation with the CRC. Some 15,000 people who have lost everything and who are entirely dependent on aid in the four hardest-hit areas of Brazzaville will receive blankets, jerrycans, soap, tarpaulins and cooking utensils before the end of'97.
Water and sanitation
Chemicals and labour for extensive rehabilitation works to water treatment plants in Djiri and Djoue have been provided by the ICRC. Thanks to such provisions, the Djiri water treatment plant (north Brazzaville) is now producing in the region of 45 m litres of water per day. With equipment (pumps, generators and small tools) and spare parts donated by the ICRC, the Société Nationale des Eaux (national water board (SNDE)) technicians are carrying out extensive repairs to Brazzaville's water distribution systems. All major sectors are now at least partially on line and testing equipment has been supplied for water quality monitoring. One of the ICRC's main priorities now is to restore power to the Brazzaville University hospital.
The ICRC has delivered seven 10-15,000 litre bladders to integrated health centres which are regularly filled with purified water for patients and the surrounding population alike by ICRC water tanker lorries. An average of 30,000 litres per day are distributed by the two tankers. A further seven bladders are envisaged for other areas of Brazzaville which remain without water.
By the end of 1997, the ICRC plans to restore a ca pacity of 250 beds to the Brazzaville University hospital which enjoyed a capacity of 975 beds before the war. The weekly number of out-patient consultations presently stands at 1,200. The CRC, with the help of the ICRC, is also providing food to some 200 in-patients. In addition, ICRC is supplying the diesel fuel for the generator which provides electricity and ensures water distribution to the hospital.
The ICRC has begun its rehabilitation programme for Brazzaville's integrated health centres and has carried out assessments in 25 of the 27 that existed before the war. Fifteen have started to receive patients again and are assisted with medicines and material supplied by ICRC. Six of these health centres have been rehabilitated by ICRC-sponsored efforts and a further eight are currently being rehabilitated (doors, windows, roofs and locked cupboard for medicine). All should be operational within the next three weeks. The CRC, supported by the Federation, and the ICRC will continue to jointly assist and/or rehabilitate these integrated health centres as necessary in 1998.
The ICRC has begun the rehabilitation of the Brazzaville Military Hospital, the majority of whose patients are civilians.
On the island of Mbamu, in the middle of the Congo river, one health centre and four health posts are treating patients thanks to ICRC assistance. In Dolisie (between Brazzaville and Pointe Noire), local health structures have been provided with medicine.
There are 18 expatriate staff from the Canadian, British and Swiss National Societies in the Republic of Congo. Five additional expatriate personnel are providing back-up from Kinshasa.