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West African Nations Collaborate on Disaster Response during Weeklong Exercise
Civilian and military representatives from six West African nations came together in Dakar, Senegal for a weeklong exercise to coordinate on national and regional disaster response planning with a focus on urban operations, July 18-22, 2011. <br
DAKAR, Senegal - Moussa Mbaye, secretary general of the Senegalese Ministry of Health and Prevention, addresses participants of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 18, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans. The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
2 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 2: DAKAR, Senegal - Moussa Mbaye, secretary general of the Senegalese Ministry of Health and Prevention, addresses participants of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 18, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans. The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
DAKAR, Senegal - Romuald Bleme, Benin Red Cross (right), and Mama Badirou, World Food Programme, collaborate on a disaster response scenario as part of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 19, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans.  The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
2 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 2 of 2: DAKAR, Senegal - Romuald Bleme, Benin Red Cross (right), and Mama Badirou, World Food Programme, collaborate on a disaster response scenario as part of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 19, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans. The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
DAKAR, Senegal - Moussa Mbaye, secretary general of the Senegalese Ministry of Health and Prevention, addresses participants of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 18, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans. The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
DAKAR, Senegal - Romuald Bleme, Benin Red Cross (right), and Mama Badirou, World Food Programme, collaborate on a disaster response scenario as part of the West Africa Pandemic Readiness and Response Exercise in Dakar, Senegal, July 19, 2011. More than 100 civilian and military representatives from West Africa, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and international organizations attended the week-long event to coordinate on national and regional disaster response plans.  The exercise was hosted by the World Food Programme with the support of ECOWAS, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Australian Agency for International Development. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
Civilian and military representatives from six West African nations came together in Dakar, Senegal for a weeklong exercise to coordinate on national and regional disaster response planning with a focus on urban operations, July 18-22, 2011.

The exercise, conducted by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), provides a forum for officials from Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal to practice responding to a simulated large-scale disaster in coordination with their military and civilian counterparts (including the commercial and private sectors) at both the national and regional levels.

"This important exercise will offer participating countries and partners an opportunity to learn new ideas and share achievements and good practices," said Thomas Yanga, Cameroon, WFP Regional Director-West Africa, at the opening ceremony. "A severe pandemic would require all of us to work together--not just government, but also the private sector and the commercial community. This idea--that a severe pandemic will have impacts that reach far beyond the health sector--is what drives the 'Whole of Society' approach taken by this exercise."

In support of this comprehensive strategy, participants in the exercise included a diverse group of people, representing national disaster management organizations, government ministries, military/police, national Red Cross/Red Crescent societies, and WFP (or the UN Country Team in the case of Nigeria). In addition, representatives from Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Togo, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNICEF, the Italian Civil Protection Department, MSB (Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency) and the National Disaster Management Agency of Kenya acted as observers/advisors.

The exercise kicked off in the morning with a series of informational briefings followed by working group sessions, each representing a national urban task force, in the afternoon. Participants were presented with a fictitious disaster scenario relating to an outbreak of a dangerous form of influenza in South Asia, which has the potential to turn into a global pandemic as the first cases reach the urban centers of West Africa. They were then asked to work with their country teams to respond to this scenario. Phones and email access were provided in each of the rooms to allow for coordination among the various country teams. Each team included a WFP or U.S. AFRICOM facilitator to provide direction as needed.

WFP Exercise Director Peter Scott-Bowden explained the importance of whole-of-government planning in responding to a disaster, emphasizing the need for coordination between the public, private, and commercial sectors.

"The public sectors and the private sector must be included because we need to ensure people can still get access to basic services that are often under the management of the commercial sector," said Scott-Bowden.

Often in a disaster, he explained, fear of falling sick can lead to absenteeism as people stop going to work to take care of their families, which may disrupt critical services such as energy, water, and food supply. Additionally, children may stop going to school, posing another set of problems. The purpose of the exercise is to plan ahead for problems like this and build leadership to ensure that critical services are maintained.

"Leadership is not just about the top person in the ministry or the top person in the government. Leadership can be about the man or woman who is in charge of the port or the person who is in charge of that market selling bread or other basic supplies," he added.

Militaries play a critical role in a health crisis because of their unique capabilities, particularly in the areas of logistics and security. Their roles focus on providing logistical support for the transfer of food and medical supplies to the affected regions, protecting medical staff, and maintaining order and security in a time of uncertainty.

Colonel Joseph Mancy, branch chief for the U.S. Africa Command Deployment Distribution Operational Center, stressed to attendees the value of practicing in a simulated environment prior to a real-life crisis.

"During my past 27 years in the Air Force, I've participated in an exercise about once every year. I understand their value and importance. It is like flying a simulator before you fly the real aircraft. You practice emergencies before you are faced with them in real life and death situations," Mancy stated.

He encouraged participants to challenge themselves and focus on identifying any gaps in their systems.

"Here today and this week, we need to stress the system. We need to stress the logistics network, the interoperability, and ask for those tough scenarios," he said. " This is too important to leave to chance. Our proactive planning will establish the foundation for teamwork, coordination and preparedness to respond with a whole of society response to any large-scale disaster."

For the remainder of the week, participants will continue working with their national task forces as they respond to the evolving pandemic situation in urban environments with a focus on external communication strategies, delivery of critical services, maintaining access to food, and more. At the end of the exercise, participants will receive reports summarizing their outcomes and achievements, as well as areas of development, and outlining a strategy for moving forward at both the national and regional levels.

This is the second of a series of regional exercises planned and conducted by WFP to strengthen coordination and decision-making among African nations in the event of a disaster. The event was supported by AFRICOM, ECOWAS, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). An exercise for the East African Community was held in Mombasa, Kenya in December 2010.

U.S. Africa Command provides technical support to the WFP in these exercises, as part of its Pandemic Response Program (PRP), a USAID-funded initiative, which aims to train senior and mid-level military leaders in disaster management. The end goals of PRP are to have sustainable African Military disaster response plans (with a focus on pandemics) which support African national civilian authorities' response plans.

See related story: WFP Prepares Countries for Large-Scale Disasters, One Pandemic at a Time
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