Unexploded ordnances in schools, students at risk

Relief Web, March 26, 2013

Goma, Unexploded grenades, bullets and other unused munitions were found last month in sewage drains used by some schools in the North Kivu capital. For students in the area, school is not a place of protection, but a threat to their lives.

Almost five months after the Goma crisis, when rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) took control of the city for 12 days, the Jesuit Refugee Service expresses concern for the safety of the civilian population, in particular children.

According to JRS staff in Goma, the toilets of Bweremana Institute, a few kilometres from the city, are full of military munitions and grenades which could explode at any minute. The ordnances are the sign of military and rebel presence in Goma before and during the conflict between the Congolese army and the M23 in November last year. Unfortunately, the schools still have not been cleared of explosive materials, even though more than 1,000 primary and secondary students have returned for classes.

Schools need to be urgently cleared. “By definition schools should be a place of protection, but here students attending classes are putting their lives at risk every day. Their safety and integrity should be guaranteed urgently”, said Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer.

For children to attend school in a climate of safety and protection, JRS will close the toilets and build 18 new facilities, 12 for the secondary school and six for the primary school.

“Since the toilets have not yet been cleared of military ordnances, we have decided to intervene as soon as possible to protect the children. The risk they will fall victim to an explosive accident while at school is currently very high. Our responsibility calls us to take any possible action to safeguard them and to re-establish school as a place of protection and peace for children”.

Background. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), following the November clashes and as of January 2013, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has destroyed 1,757 unexploded and abandoned ordnances and more than 11,000 small arms ammunition.

Since April 2012, at least 360,000 people have been forced to flee their home villages in North Kivu due to M23 rebels. Of this group, 150,000 have been forcibly displaced following the clashes between M23 and government forces which on 20 November last year culminated in the fall of Goma to the rebels.

After 12 days of occupation, the rebels agreed to withdraw 20 kilometres from the city centre. Since then peace negotiations between government and rebel leaders, which meanwhile split into two factions, have been on-going.