Disaster unit defies political boundaries for Lebanese's safety
BEIRUT: Despite the Lebanese authorities’ total failure in addressing the garbage crisis, which has triggered massive popular demonstrations, some facets of government institutions seem alive and well, up to the tasks entrusted them by the nation’s citizens.
One institution claiming this accolade is the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Unit, which promises to fulfill the tasks identified by its name if ever Lebanon is subject to a devastating disaster.
The unit, whose headquarters are located in the Grand Serail, was the product of the UNDP’s Strengthening Disaster Risk Management Capacities in Lebanon project launched in 2009 in collaboration with the office of the prime minister.
The endeavor aims to develop and strengthen the Lebanese government’s disaster-management and risk-reduction strategies.
With Lebanon already having feeble infrastructure and being overwhelmed by economic and security challenges, any disaster, be it earthquakes and tsunamis or even floods, forest fires, landslides and droughts, could have destructive effects.
The unit, established under the first phase of the project, focuses on developing and establishing disaster-response systems at a regional level, in addition to raising public awareness on the proper response in the event of a nationwide catastrophe.
The second phase, running from 2013 through the present day, centers on finalizing work already begun and targeting specific sectors and localities, particularly highly vulnerable groups such as Syrian refugees.
The unit’s efforts have resulted in a broad array of measures, with the primary goal of reducing the fallout that vulnerable populations and their infrastructure could face as a result of a national disaster.
A workshop at the Riviera Hotel Monday saw a continuation of these efforts. An assortment of individuals representing a vast swath of government agencies and institutions gathered to partake in a workshop entitled Host Nation Support.
The workshop is being held in collaboration with the UNDP Disaster Risk Management Unit and Euromed PPRD South II.
Should a national disaster occur in Lebanon, all the represented agencies have a specific role to play in response.
“The primary aim of this program is networking between structures and people,” said Laurent de Pierrefeu, the disaster management expert administering the workshop. “Once you have that half the job is done.”
Euromed PPRD is a partnership project established by the EU and Mediterranean nations, aimed at strengthening responses to both natural and manmade disasters. The workshop is being held from Sept. 14 to 17.
It includes representatives of nearly every government institution and agency that might have some role to play in the event of national disaster.
Attendees included representatives from the ministries of health, transport and public works, social affairs, education, environment, agriculture, energy and water, telecommunications, information, economy, foreign affairs, and finance. Members of the Army and the Internal Security Forces were in attendance, as well as members of the Lebanese Red Cross and Civil Defense.
The workshop was opened by the secretary-general of the Higher Defense Council, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Kheir.
Kheir stressed the importance of the work being done by the DRM Unit. “Our achievements speak for themselves, even if no one knows about them,” he said. Kheir also lauded the importance of interagency communication and cooperation. “Our aim is to have a national response team of the utmost preparedness ... a team who has knowledge of international humanitarian law,” he said during his speech.
Kheir soon departed, and Laurent was left to his own devices. Participants were asked to introduce themselves, sparking friendly banter as attendees exchanged jokes from one table to the next.
The gathered Army representatives were comprised of the Air Force and Naval Command’s top brass.
Most perplexing was the almost casual method in which members of different agencies were able to communicate complex matters and systems pertaining to disaster response. For a nation that has not been able to collect the garbage piled up on its streets, the easy demeanor, professionalism and efficiency of government representatives seemed baffling. “It is because no money is involved,” a security personnel said. “When you don’t have money exchanging hands, you have no political hurdles and everything runs smoothly.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 15, 2015, on page 4.
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