Equipping Uganda to respond to Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear disasters

Dec 25, 2017

Trainees from the Army, Police and Prisons simulate how to disinfect someone in case of an ammonia gas attack. This was part of the closing ceremony after a two week training held at Uganda’s Rapid Deployment Capability Centre (URDCC) in the eastern district of Jinja. (Photo Credit: UNDP Uganda 2017).

JINJA - With technological advancement, the threat from Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear (CBRN) explosions or accidents is increasing.

Chemical accidents such as the Bhopal gas accident in India (1984), the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the then USSR (1986), the Jilin chemical plant explosion in China (2005), and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, indicate how such disasters can happen anytime.

In Uganda, many lives have been lost in biological incidents, including outbreaks of Ebola, Marburg and Tuberculosis, while petroleum-related accidents too have claimed many lives. In December 2001, for example, 90 perished when a fuel tanker caught fire in Buseesa, Iganga district while more recently in 2013, a total of 33 people died when a huge fire broke out following an accident involving a fuel tanker and another vehicle car on the outskirts of Kampala.

With this realisation, UNDP through its disaster risk management support to Uganda facilitated the emergency response operational training on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and other explosives for select members of Uganda’s first responders to enhance their preparedness.

The 14-day training attended by representatives from the army, police and prisons was held at Uganda’s Rapid Deployment Capability Centre (URDCC) in the eastern district of Jinja. The trainees got both theoretical and practical skills and latter at the pass-out ceremony held on 23 December 2017 simulated how to evacuate people in case of an ammonia attack.

“You are now a specialised group within the Uganda People’s Defence Forces able to respond to CBRN emergencies with courage and knowledge,” Mr. Rohan Cooray, who represented the UNDP Country Director, Almaz Gebru, told the trainees.

The training was conducted in line with Uganda’s National Policy on Disaster Preparedness and Management. The policy prescribes that at least 20% of the UPDF in every battalion, 20% of police officers in every district and volunteer responders should be equipped with skills on disaster preparedness and response.

Brigadier Stephen Oluka, the Director of Uganda’s National Emergency Coordination & Operations Centre (NECOC), pointed out that response to CBRN emergencies requires specialised training as any mistake can be costly. “You may not have time to tell us that you had not been attentive after all,” Brigadier Oluka said. He added that the training would be integrated in the URDCC work plan.

CBRN-related factories are among the growing industries worldwide. While oil, nuclear energy and chemicals have produced many products that have been beneficial, there is a degree of risk to human life, public health and the environment if not managed appropriately.

 “With an industrialisation process ongoing in Uganda, especially the rapid development of the oil and chemical industries, one of the challenges is, how to produce and use these products in a manner, that is safe for the persons engaged and for the environment,” Mr. Cooray, who is the Information Management Specialist at the National Emergency Coordination & Operations Centre (NECOC), observed.

It’s the same concern that Brigadier Oluka noted, “with the natural inclination of industries to make money by maximizing profits, the use of dubious and cheap technology is attractive. We therefore cannot rule out the increased emergence of unconventional technology and dangerous chemicals that can leak and cause problems to the public,” he said.

Safety, prevention and emergency response to major CBRN accidents, Mr Cooray noted, must involve the relevant government authorities, technical institutions, industrial partners and the defence department.  

“Without close co-operation and commitment of partners, it is impossible for a country to establish a national emergency response system for sound CBRN emergency management,” he cautioned.

“It is very important to safe guard the people of Uganda. Please remember, ‘safety first, prevention foremost,” said Mr. Cooray.

URDCC Commandant, Major General Nakibus Lakara pointed out that there have been several catastrophic CBRN incidents around the world and since Uganda is not living in isolation, it was appropriate it heightened her preparedness.

“Disaster risk continues to be in our daily life,” he said. “We need to develop a template of standard operating procedures,” General Lakara said, asking UNDP to support the training even at the East Africa region level.

General Lakara noted that the response to disaster has shifted from the conventional type to one of “time spent during response after attack.” He cited an example of Sri Lanka that has set “evacuation of 1.5 million people in 10 minutes”. Sri Lanka lost 40,000 people in one incident before setting up of the target.

“You need personnel, equipment, roads, transport system and coordination. That’s the essence of NECOC at the Office of the Prime Minister,” General Lakara pointed out.

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