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Tanzania Blast Victims Seek Urgent Resettlement Aid

The International Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal to care for more than 20,000 Tanzanians made homeless by last month’s explosions at a military base near Dar es Salaam. IFRC spokesman for East Africa Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu says that international funds are needed for temporary shelter, sanitation, and medical security during the rainy season, and ultimately to help resettle the victims.

“What we need right now is about half a million dollars for the next three to six months. We have put forward about $100,000 of those from our own reserves, and we do hope that the international community will make a move to assist these people,” he said.

The April 29 blasts killed 26 people, injured more than 500, and leveled 400 houses in a poor suburban area surrounding the base that had recently attracted many poor rural residents seeking a better life near the large city. The explosions, which are still thought to have been accidental, forced more than 20,000 victims into two camps set up by the Red Cross.

“In these camps, they receive hot food from the Red Cross volunteers. There are medical services provided to them, psychological counseling, and of course, we are trying to put together more aid because obviously, they have lost pretty much everything,” noted Engstrand-Neacsu.

He says tents, mosquito nets, and improved sanitation to guard against waterborne diseases are a priority for the destitute former residents of Mbagala Township, where the blasts occurred.

“Rainy season risks such as malaria occurring are quite high. Respiratory diseases, particularly in children who live under tents, quite cold temperatures during the night. What we need right now is to ensure that proper sanitation is maintained in the camp, safe drinking water is provided, that food is received, clothes. The longer term prospect is much more complicated because the authorities are obviously thinking of relocating these people in other areas than the one where they were living,” said Engstrand-Neacsu.

Although no one has given public cause to suspect foul play or sabotage in the military setback, the Red Cross official notes that shrapnel from the powerful explosion killed one victim who was as far as 15 kilometers away from the center of the blast. Engstrand-Neacsu credits Tanzanian authorities with helping to get the victims to safety.

“The Tanzanian government has intervened in the first phase, ensuring that the population was informed and advised to leave the dangerous places. An evacuation of the high buildings, even in the center of the city, was ordered. Messages were constantly sent on the radio about the controlled explosions that were conducted by authorities at the site of the initial explosions. The public hospitals that cared for the victims did a great job. This was also part of the authorities’ response. And the camps that the Red Cross has set up are supported by the authorities in various ways, including ensuring safety and security,” he observed.

So far, the Red Cross has reunited 431 of 1,244 children and adults separated from their families by the blasts. As far as resettlement efforts are concerned, Engstrand-Neacsu says the international community is being counted on after the first phase of the rescue effort is completed.

“We do hope that the authorities will be able to determine the next steps as far as a more permanent relocation for these people is concerned. And we are ready to launch an appeal for additional funds as the situation evolves and as we know better about the volume of the needs on the ground,” he explains.

About 50 to 60 Red Cross medical volunteers have been dispatched to Tanzanian hospitals to help medical authorities treat lacerations from shrapnel, broken and amputated limbs, burns, and a lot of people in shock. Perhaps the biggest trauma that continues to vex and haunt Dar es Salaam residents, according to the Red Cross spokesman, is the recollection of the 1998 terrorist bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam in which 212 people were killed and 4,000 mostly Tanzanian citizens were injured.