ACCRA, Ghana - The West Africa Disaster Preparedness Initiative Way Forward Conference (WADPI) kicked off Dec. 7 in Accra, Ghana.
More than 200 attendees from West African and European, and U.S. government agencies and other public and private organizations involved in disaster preparedness and response are participating in the four-day conference, which officially closes the training portion of the WADPI.
The WADPI aims to build upon lessons learned from the recent Ebola response effort to strengthen national disaster response capacities of West African nations.
“This conference has assembled the presence of experts in disaster management from several African countries to reflect on the achievements of the WADPI training that has established that roadmap for the future,” said the Hon. Mark Owen Woyongo, Minister of Interior for the Republic of Ghana.
The goal of the WADPI is to promote a whole-of-government approach to disaster preparedness strategies and plans. Since July, more than 800 personnel from 12 West African nations participated in three-week-long country-specific awareness training sessions. The sessions covered different aspects of disaster preparedness and response and aimed to foster communication and collaboration across the West Africa region. Those attending the training sessions represented various functions and agencies within their country’s government, military, and civilian sectors that focus on disaster response and preparation.
“The battle against infectious disease is not solely a ministry of health responsibility,” said Alex Deprez, U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission director for West Africa.
He emphasized that it takes a whole of government approach and agencies such as a ministry of education have a role to ensure protocols are in place to minimize exposure to students and a ministry of agriculture and livestock must work on ways to prevent animal to human transmission of disease.
“Such are the needs of intergovernmental coordination,” he said.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in collaboration with the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Center and the National Disaster Management Organization of Ghana, is the lead for this effort. All of the countries that participated in the training sessions, with the exception of Cameroon, are ECOWAS member states.
“The opportunity is with us here with this program to pull our resources together with a sense of greater commitment, dedication and support to build on the gains of the last six months,” said His Excellency Dr. Toga Gayewea McIntosh, Vice President of ECOWAS. “Quick fix solutions to disaster management are not the answer to ensure the stable development of West Africa, but long term solutions and strong partnerships are the answer.”
The WADPI is supported by the U.S. Africa Command’s Disaster Preparedness Program and other U.S. government agencies. AFRICOM’s Disaster Preparedness Program works to enhance disaster response capabilities across the African continent.
“This entire project has been very exciting and inspiring for us in the U.S. Africa Command and across the U.S. government,” said Dr. Barbara Sotirin, AFRICOM deputy director of programs (J5).
WADPI is a new approach, Sotirin said.
“We want to emphasize how successful this has been and how committed you are to moving this forward within your own national boundaries and within the region,” she said.
Though this conference formally ends the training portion of the WADPI, implementation is already beginning. Liberia has taken the WADPI framework and trained 400 county level officials on disaster response efforts, said Faith Cooper, WADPI regional advisor.
“One of the key accomplishments of this project is African solutions for African problems, which resulted in Africans training Africans with technical support by the United States,” she said. “That is one of the essences of this program and what we seek to do.”
Sustainment of the resulting successes of the WADPI is key, said the Hon. Frederic Fritz Baffour, chairman of the parliamentary subcommittee on defence and interior for Ghana.
“If it is a program that is not sustained, then it is a failure,” he said. “It is something that has got to continue, grow, and become part of everything we do on this continent and the world at large.”
Baffour, who is a strong advocate for regional disaster response coordination, had words of encouragement for the attendees.
“Go forward and let’s achieve something substantial and sustainable,” he said. “Let’s achieve something that we can beat our chests later on and say ‘we’re very much part of something that has been good and great for Africa and the world.’”