Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kenya: Mombasa steels itself for attacks

Photo: Jimmy Kamude/IRIN. Crowds gather at the scene of a grenade attack on a bar in Mombasa on 24 June 2012

Source: IRIN

MOMBASA, 29 June 2012 (IRIN) - Following three grenade attacks in recent months and a US "terror" alert, residents of the coastal Kenyan city of Mombasa are bracing themselves for the possibility of future attacks; local leaders are working towards better disaster preparedness and improvements in the emergency services.

Three people lost their lives after a grenade attack on a bar in the Mshomoroni area of Mombasa on the night of 24 June, a day after the US issued a warning of an imminent attack. One person was killed and several injured in a suspected grenade attack on 15 May at a Mombasa sports bar; two grenade attacks in the city on 31 March left at least 15 injured. There have also been a spate of attacks in the capital, Nairobi, and northeastern areas of the country since Kenya crossed into southern Somalia in October 2011 to help stamp out the radical Islamist group, Al Shabab.

"We here in Mombasa had never thought that one day we will have to handle situations such as this. However, now that the reality is here with us, we have no option but to find ways of dealing with it," said James Mureu, chairman of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Mombasa County. "There is a need, for example, to come up with a disaster preparedness committee that would specifically deal with the terror threats. And that indeed, is what we should be planning to do in collaboration with other like-minded stakeholders living in this town."

Among other things, a disaster-preparedness committee would liaise with emergency services to ensure they are fully equipped and train members of the public on the correct response to explosions and other disasters.

Emergency services

According to Nelly Muluka, communications manager at the Kenya Red Cross society, one of the biggest problems in the immediate aftermath of an attack is crowd control.

"Our staff on ground usually find it extremely hard sometimes to administer the required services as a result of pushing and shoving from the crowd who gather around these scenes seconds after disaster," she said. "It would be even more catastrophic if another grenade is hurled onto the gathering or yet [another] explosion goes off," she added.

And while the Red Cross says it has enough trained paramedics and ambulances to deal with similar incidents in the future and is training more trauma counsellors, there is a shortage of health workers at the city's public hospitals, and there is a need to boost blood donations in preparation for similar emergencies.

"All casualties in such disasters are always rushed to the General Hospital, and with that in mind, we always recall our staff either on leave or off-duty to report to work, depending on how big the disaster would be," said Anisa Omar, the provincial director of public health and sanitation. "Blood for casualties, however, is usually not sufficient."

More police patrols

The police, meanwhile, have stepped up their monitoring of the city and its suburbs, with uniformed and plain clothes officers patrolling the streets and crowded areas such as market places, public beaches and the ferry service.

 "Our intelligence officers are on high alert... we are burning the midnight oil," said provincial police chief Aggrey Adoli.

Bars and restaurant owners are enhancing security in their premises by hiring security personnel from private firms and purchasing security sensors to scan patrons entering their premises.

"I decided not only to install a first aid kit but also came up with write-ups in all my premises on how patrons can avoid severe injuries or save themselves altogether in case of an attack," said Robert Ocholla, who owns a chain of restaurants in Mombasa.

According to Sam Ikwaye, outgoing chairman of the Mombasa chapter of the Pubs, Entertainment and Restaurant Association of Kenya, the upswing in demand for security gadgets has allowed some unscrupulous business people to put counterfeit sensors on the market.

"There has been a rush in buying the security gadgets, thus making some unscrupulous shopkeepers to take advantage and to sell fake machines to unsuspecting businessmen," he said. "We have now advised our members where they can purchase effective ones."