30 March 2007

Mozambique: Explosions End But Trauma Continues

Six hours of terrifying explosions and projectiles flying everywhere, killing people indiscriminately, are over but the fear and the trauma live on.

A week ago, a depot storing armaments exploded in the middle of 14 densely populated poor neighbourhoods in the Mozambican capital of Maputo. Explosions went on for several hours with bullets and rockets blasting off in all directions.

Currently over 100 people are confirmed dead and about 500 injured, many of them serious and requiring amputations. Nobody escaped the impact. Maputo residents at least heard the thunderous explosions, felt the ground tremor and saw windows shatter.

It was not the first time that it had happened, so 13-year-old Adolfo Amissi (photo) worries that it will happen again. He lives in a transit centre for 27 former street children in the suburb of Zimpeto, near the site of the ammunition depot in the suburb of Malhazine.

The transit centre was hit badly. The flying bullets, rockets and other artillery, blasted off the roof of the reception area of the centre, hit one of the chalets where the children sleep and left huge holes in the garden walls and in the ground.

"I was playing football at the time," Adolfo told IPS. "I knew what it was because it had happened once already this year. So when we first saw the missiles flying over our heads and heard the explosions we continued playing football because we thought it would be over soon, like last time. But it got worse, and the explosions got louder.

"Then one of the uncles (social workers) at the centre put us into cars to escape. There were eight of us in my car. We drove fast away from the centre and stopped at the hospital, but while we waited there, there was another explosion. We had to flee again," Adolfo added.

The hospital-the Influene Psychiatric Hospital-has gaping holes in the walls where the flying projectiles hit. "When we stopped a second time, another rocket hit nearby, so we drove on again. People were running all over the place. Some of us were crying. I was scared. I thought we would die." Adolfo looked distressed.

Finally, the boys were driven to Marrequene, some 30 kilometres away. It was a lucky escape for the 27 former street children as the army later removed 30 explosives from their grounds, said the director of the transit centre, Edgar Cossa.

The authorities are worried about the children affected by the blast. Matters are exacerbated by many of the children having suffered earlier traumas.

Aderta Manjate works with a local NGO that supports orphans and vulnerable children. She told IPS that four orphans, Sandra (16), Anatercia (13), Cidela (10) and Jose (6), live alone and were panic stricken. "They have no adults living with them, so they came running to me. They were crying 'there are bandidos (bandits) after us'."

Manjate's colleague Atanasio Tamele lost seven family members in the explosions, including his three grandchildren.

He is now especially concerned for his 12-year-old niece, Rosinha, who is in intensive care. "She already lost her parents due to illness, so she came to live with her aunty who has died in the explosions. How will Rosinha cope with so much sadness?"

The government has promised to remove the remaining ammunition from the depot in Maputo to a remote area. It will also launch an inquiry into the incident. Meanwhile the government and its partners meet regularly to coordinate how to assist the communities directly hit.

One of the main priorities is to support the Mozambican army with expertise from organisations like the British nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Halo Trust. The army is conducting the huge clearance operation. This task is also important because some of the ammunition is still unexploded.

A campaign is also afoot to sensitise the population, including children, to report and not to touch ammunition that they find.

The ministries of women and social action, education and health are working with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the British NGO Save the Children to train activists in the community to work with teachers to help pupils overcome the trauma.

"The teachers will be taught how to use different techniques such as group discussions to let the children express their fears about these explosions," according to Chris McIvor, programme director of Save the Children in Mozambique.

"Teachers will be taught to look out for signs of trauma and nervousness. Where possible, they will try to help the children themselves but they will also refer severe cases of trauma for professional help," said McIvor.

"During the blasts many children were separated from their families - there were 170 lost children at one point. Most of them have now been reunited with the families. Six schools were damaged, and one school lost three children," added McIvor.

Adolfo is still visibly shaken. He is worried about his football coach, 15-year-old Osvaldo. "He was at his own home at the time of the explosions and his leg got hurt. He is still in hospital."

Asked whether this was the most frightening experience of his life, Adolfo said "there are two things that have frightened me in my life: the explosions and when I saw a robber kill someone in front of me while I was living on the street."

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