A new Handicap International program is helping to safeguard civilians who were living in proximity to poorly secured weapons and munitions depots in Niger.
"For historical reasons, the armed forces of countries in West Africa often put weapons depots in city centers," explains Frédéric Maio, the Head of Mine Clearance Program Development. “The rapid urban development in these areas often sees homes spring up around these storage facilities.”
The memory of the tragic explosion of a munitions depot in the Mpila neighborhood of Brazzaville, which took place in March 2012 and left 300 people dead, is still strong. So Handicap International decided to implement prevention programs to improve the management of these depots.
"We often see old weapons abandoned in boxes in a corner of the room,” explains one of Handicap International's Project Managers. “Nobody takes care of them and the slightest incident could be catastrophic. It is better to destroy them. Even if the munition itself is useless, the explosive charge is still active. Even smoking a cigarette nearby could be dangerous."
Since October 2014, Handicap International teams have improved the management of Niger’s military munitions depots, and destroyed obsolete weapons. The country's armed forces have been provided with a hydraulic machine and electric metal cutting machine to destroy weapons. The organization has also built a facility dedicated to the destruction of illicit or obsolete weapons.
A weapons destruction ceremony was held at the beginning of May in Torodi, located 62 miles from Niger’s capital, Niamey. Between January and May 2015, the teams destroyed 1,400 weapons. These were mainly small arms and light weapons, but there were also larger weapons and rocket launchers. All said, teams destroyed an estimated 10,000 weapons.
In May, Handicap International finished building seven secure weapons storage facilities in compliance with international safety standards, as well as renovating a munitions depot in Niamey to ensure it complies with international standards. Work on two other munitions depots is already underway. The organization has also provided training for the people handling weapons in the depots.