In a first for MAG, a team in DR Congo has just completed the clearance of the harbour in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. Marc Renquet, Dive Team Leader said: "This is magnificent work that will greatly assist in opening up the town of Mbandaka." Daniel Sissling, MAG's Country Programme Manager, added: "The rehabilitation of the port can only be a good thing for encouraging the redevelopment of the region. MAG is delighted to have contributed to this initiative by removing the blockages that prevented redevelopment for so long."
MAG teams return after a dive
Mortars recovered from the river bed
Completing a Quality Control dive
Mbandaka is located on the Congo River, exactly on the equator. Clearing the port means an improvement in transport infrastructure, which will help revive economic activity in the province, allowing rehabilitation work to recommence after it was halted a year ago following fears of explosive ordnance contamination.
The project began in February and ended on 30 April 2008, by which time the team had cleared 1,500 sq/m of river bed removing 18 items of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and more than 17,000 items of small arms ammunition.
These were destroyed in a bulk demolition on 10 April in front of a Congolese governmental delegation. Cocurrent to the clearance work, the team supported other organisations engaged in the reconstruction project, in specific diving tasks, including survey and assessment.
DR Congo is a vast country with a limited transport infrastructure, which made shipping diving equipment from the UK to Mbandaka at short notice, particularly challenging.
The diving itself was perilous in water with a strong current and visibility so limited that the divers couldn't see further than 45cm, even with a torch. The clearance had to be done manually, touching every square entimetre of the bottom, while holding on to a sunken rope for guideance. The pollution of the water and the presence of crocodiles nearby added to the dangers. A safety diver was present at all times to intervene if necessary.
The clearance phase of the reconstruction is now over and the port should be completed by the end of the year. When re-opened it will be the main transport hub in the province. Equateur is isolated with no road system, so the river is crucial to commerce upstream to Kisangani (the provincial capital) and downstream to Kinshasa.
The Congo River is 4,600km long and up to 16km wide and is the main transport route in the the country. Nowadays, large barges navigate the river to transport people and goods and it takes around 10 days to travel between Mbandaka and Kinshasa.
The reconstruction of the port and the clearance work is financed by the World Bank through the Bureau Congolaise des Marches d'Infrastructures (BCMI). The project was also made possible thanks to the support MAG receives from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
Building on the experience from this project, MAG is planning to clear the port of Moba in the south-east of Katanga. Moba is a major port on Lake Tanganyika and is used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the repatriation of refugees from Zambia.
UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the UN Protection and Logistics clusters in Katanga have requested MAG's help to reduce the threat faced by returnees. The port is also used daily by local inhabitants.
For the moment MAG has posted warning signs and Mine Risk Education (MRE) has been carried out with users of the port. It's anticipated that the clearance will start shortly with similar projects being undertaken by other MAG programmes worldwide in the near future.
13 May 08
MAG's work in DRC is currently funded and supported by: DFID (UK Department for International Development); Pooled Fund; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency; Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, US Department of State; Royal Government of the Netherlands (commenced January 2008)