Traders at a protection of civilians site in Bentiu have praised United Nations peacekeepers for their speedy response after they put out a fire that threatened to raze some 120 shops with essential merchandise for the internally displaced people.
“It is our obligation as peacekeepers to protect the people” explained Police Commanding Officer, Christopher Klomegah, whose Ghanaian Formed Police Unit in Bentiu led the firefight. “Fire is part of the threats that we have in the PoC [Protection of Civilians site].”
A statement issued by the United Nations Information Centre, in Accra, and copied to the Ghana News Agency, said peacekeepers from the Ghanaian Formed Police Unit, UN Police and the UN Department of Safety and Security released two water trucks that were used to immediately put out the fire.
“When something like this happens, we mobilize personnel and move quickly to surround the place to allow our water tankers to go in to the scene of the fire and put out the fire,” it quoted Commanding Officer Klomegah as explaining the basic firefighting procedure.
“As people were struggling to save some of their belongings, it was difficult to contain the fire, so we cut them off and prevented them from getting close to the fire, and that gave us an opportunity to ably put it out.”
The chairperson of the traders’ union in the protection of civilians’ site, Gien Tut, the statement said, expressed his satisfaction with the peacekeepers’ firefighting efforts.
“The fire was very terrifying and it would have been worse than this if the UN peacekeepers had not come in on time. This is a great and positive response from UNMISS,” Gien Tut said.
Tut also stated some of the precautions they would implement to avoid future fire outbreaks, saying. “The trade union leadership will work collectively with UNMISS and other camp management entities to make sure that no bakery remains within the market to avoid further fire outbreak,” he said.
Simon Bol, who lost all his belongings, sadly explained how difficult it would be for him to restart his business.
“I recently brought all the goods from Juba with a lot of money, not to mention tax and transportation. Now everything is gone and this is the only source of my income to cover for school fees for my children in east Africa.”
UNMISS Relief, Integration and Protection Officer, John Gatjang, said his office was “working closely with camp management, other protection partners and UN security to establish more facts in relation to the root cause of the fire incident.”
Last year, in March, more than 150 shelters and shops were burnt to ashes in different fire outbreaks as the internally displaced persons used mostly flammable materials for construction, the statement said.
Bentiu is one of the regions affected by conflict in South Sudan, and with all trade routes blocked, traders risk their lives and resources to bring in goods from the capital, Juba. Sometimes they have to take the long route via Bahr El Gazal, which invites heavy taxes that supersede the actual prices of commodities procured.