Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I don't have any music to talk about in this post, but I wanted to mention something that I haven't been able to get my mind off since I first read it a couple of days ago. In Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, a fire at a munitions depot located in or adjacent to a densely populated part of the city caused a series of huge explosions that were heard and felt for miles around. So far, the death toll has been set at just under 250, but that number is expected to climb dramatically once rescue crews are able to search more of the collapsed buildings where many people are suspected to be dead or trapped. The crews have been largely unable to explore the more devastated areas because of fires which continue to burn and explosives which continue to explode after being scattered about the city by the initial blasts. Teams of international firefighters did succeed in preventing the fires from reaching a second depot near the first which apparently contains even more powerful explosives. It goes without saying that time is running out for the people who are still trapped and require medical assistance. A similar but less severe incident in 2009 prompted the government to pledge to move its munitions stores away from the capital, but if any steps were taken towards this goal, they were too little too late.

The real tragedy about all this is that while someone might be at fault, this horrible story has no villain. The people left dead or maimed by this explosion are collateral damage in a world where tons of explosives are considered a reasonable investment but emergency response infrastructure is not. The victims of this explosion are the victims of a world where technology that takes away lives is more valuable than technology that protects life. This is not to say that the government could have kept itself afloat without the threat of force that these weapons represented. The whole world is simply militarized and weaponized. What made this story so painful to me is that these deaths are more senseless even than the deaths in wars whose outcomes are of little material interest to their soldiers. This is militarization at its worst. Through some series of decision making processes, the Congo Brazzaville government elected to buy all those bombs and store them in or close to a densely populated quarter of the city. This destruction was unnecessary by any account and yet somehow it was not avoided because in the big picture, some set of military concerns was given priority over the importance of avoiding this catastrophe.

Update 3.17.12:

Why is no one reporting on this? I understand it's a small country, but I can't seem to find anything from any major news source published after March 6th. This gutwrenching piece came out just yesterday, not much new information on the progress of relief efforts or death tolls, just a description of the horror that is the aftermath of this incident. The reporter, Yusuf Omar, seems to think that with the threat of a cholera outbreak, this aftermath will bring with it a whole new tragedy.

I think there is a correlation between how underreported this event is and how understaffed and resource-hungry the relief effort is. The distinction between the first and third worlds, one created by those who place themselves in the first world, allows people from powerful and prosperous nations to overlook the plights of poor nations, even in cases like this when so many preventable deaths loom.

Just today, a volunteer came into the store where I work and asked me for a donation for the victims of the Fukushima disaster, which occurred just over a year ago. At that moment, I couldn't help but think that I hadn't heard a peep about the first anniversary of Haiti's earthquake. Nor had I ever been visited by volunteers seeking donations on Haiti's behalf even though the death toll of that disaster was significantly higher than Japan's and Haiti has made much less progress in their recovery effort.

Haiti lacks both the infrastructure and the international recognition that enables these kinds of efforts, but I suspect that the problem runs deeper than this. We citizens of the prosperous nations expect poverty and tribulations to plague the people of Haiti because we have classified them as poor. What happened in Japan shocks us and pulls at our heart strings because it feels too close to home, because in the global community they are too like us. We see the Haitians, on the other hand, as natural born sufferers. By the same token, and through major no fault of their own, many of Japan's American sympathizers are oblivious to the very existence of Congo Brazzaville, not to mention the dire situation presently unfolding there. The failure of the fortunate to acknowledge the value of human life in poor countries is put further into perspective by the fact that United States just withdrew $80 million in annual funding from UNESCO in protest of the institution's push for UN recognition of Palestinian statehood.

In any case, as Omar says in the above linked article, without a serious and immediate disaster relief effort, "this is just the beginning."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I entirely missed hearing of this catastrophe in Congo Brazzaville in no small part due to the Western World's media black-out of sub-Saharan Africa. It's incredibly frustrating.