Devastating fire ravages IDP site in Bria
Some 364 shelters were destroyed and at least 2,000 people left homeless at the PK3 site for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Bria. A fire accidentally broke out in the afternoon of 18 April. Strong winds during the current dry season quickly spread the flames across three blocks of the densely populated site that is home to more than 50,000 people. Some of the victims found refuge with relatives, others slept under the roof of 25 communal shelters that UNHCR and INTERSOS quickly set up with the participation of affected IDPs as an immediate emergency response.
Medical partners IMC and MSF took care of 103 injured people, most of them women, many who suffered from smoke inhalation while trying to save family members and belongings from the flames. Not only physical injuries were taken care of but IMC’s mental health team also treated patients with stress reactions and psychological shock.
As soon as the fire was extinguished with the help of the UN peacekeepers, humanitarian organizations present in Bria, under the leadership of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), started assessing the damage and planning the emergency response. Water tanks, toilets, school buildings and health facilities were fortunately not affected by the flames. OXFAM continues supplying water and ensuring the functioning of sanitation facilities. To prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other diseases at the communal shelters, soaps and buckets were distributed. WFP distributed food rations to the 364 affected families for three weeks to make up for the loss of their food stocks. A joint distribution of non-food items by several humanitarian organizations took place on 25 April. Tarps were distributed to protect from the approaching rainy season, hygiene items and clothes for the 2,000 people to make up for what was lost in the flames.
OCHA coordinates with the UN peacekeepers to ensure regular patrols at the IDP site to prevent looting that was observed after the fire and to mitigate protection-related concerns.
While humanitarian partners focus on an emergency response to alleviate the immediate effects of the fire, they have also started improving living conditions at the congested IDP site – the largest in the Central African Republic. ACTED is undertaking a fire hazard assessment to reduce the risk of future fires at the site.
The PK3 site in Bria has been a refuge for displaced people for several years. Some have fled intercommunal tensions, others violence and clashes. Some IDPs have come from far, others from parts of town just a few kilometres away. As the security situation in Bria is improving and returning from the PK3 site could become a possibility in the near future, ACTED has started a comprehensive survey among IDPs about their intentions to return to where they had fled from. The survey involves in a first round the 335 families affected by the fire. In the coming weeks, it will be extended to a representative sample of the 7,400 families, who live at the site, to inform future humanitarian assistance.