MAG has launched an emergency social media campaign to warn residents of the risks of handling unexploded ordnance in the wake of a devastating arms depot explosion in Equatorial Guinea.

Facebook adverts are targeting people living in the city of Bata in the Central African country, warning them not to touch unexploded shells and missiles which were thrown out by the blast, which is known to have killed at least 108 persons and left more than 600 injured and homeless.

The ads were designed and are being posted by MAG’s global risk education experts, who have been piloting digital and social media risk education strategies for the last year. It is the first time digital risk education has been used as part of an emergency response in this way.  

MAG is also working with other agencies, including UNICEF and the Equatorial Guinea government, to produce posters which will be posted across the affected communities.

The Facebook adverts and posters include a helpline number for people to report findings of unexploded items.

MAG’s senior community liaison advisor, Sebastian Kasack, said, “This new approach of delivering lifesaving lessons via Facebook ads in response to emergency scenarios ensures that we reach people affected by explosive ordnance when they need it most, helping to reduce the risk of harm and keeping families safe. Digital channels enable us to get urgent warnings to affected communities when physical access is challenging.”

Bata was rocked by four enormous explosions explosive stores and a weapons depot on Sunday, March 7. A radius of 800m around the blast centre looks like a war zone, with buildings completely flattened or burnt out, and ammunition such as rockets and artillery shells scattered over the neighbouring areas.

MAG launched the Facebook campaign after pictures emerged on social media showing people posing with artillery shells thrown out by the blast. A UN field assessment team observed teenagers collecting metal waste from the explosion. This is a high-risk behaviour that gravely endangers the people doing it, and by moving ammunition away from the site, the danger is being moved to the homes and businesses of the scrap metal collectors.

International emergency response teams, co-ordinated by the UN, are scrambling to deliver assistance by conducting rapid assessment of continued risks and making the area as safe as possible by dealing with the unexploded shells and other ordnance littering the blast area. Scores of devices have already been removed from the scene.

But the social media posts that have emerged, showing people posing with deadly artillery shells thrown out by the blast, demonstrate that emergency risk education for the affected population is an essential and urgent part of any integrated response to such blasts.

The explosion and its aftermath are strikingly similar to the devastating blasts that occurred almost exactly nine years ago of an army arms depot in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. At least 250 people were killed. Total injuries exceeded 2,300 and more than 13,800 people were left homeless.