ABUJA, Nigeria, November 20, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Nigeria has reached a milestone in providing assistance to and protecting their citizens during pandemic and natural emergencies. Working with peers and experts from the U.S. Africa Command and other international partners, Nigerian officials came together in a special ceremony to unveil a grand national disaster response plan in Abuja.
Disaster preparedness requires leadership, experts, patience and planning. The goal is to produce written, complementary, codified plans that provide the roadmap for first responders and leaders at all levels from multiple organizations, so they know they are ready and able to help their country when disaster strikes.
“I seize this opportunity to appreciate the U.S. Government, the U.S. Africa Command and indeed all other partners for their enormous assistance in the realization of these national plans. These plans will provide Nigeria with a robust framework for pandemic and disaster response management. Indeed, today is historic and is a happy day for Nigeria,” said Professor C.O. Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Health (FMOH).
The grand plan, collectively and formally known as Nigeria’s National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan, the Armed Forces Pandemic Contingency Plan, and the Military Assistance to Civil Authorities Disaster Contingency Plan, was presented in a ceremony before an audience of more than 150 on November 14 in Abuja.
The ceremony attendees, also here to participate in a disaster response exercise, included civil and military experts from the Armed Forces of Nigeria, African partner nations Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda, the U.S. Africa Command, and senior officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. As a testament Nigeria’s progress in disaster response preparedness, Liberia and Mozambique sent observers. Other experts who traveled to attend this high-profile event included representatives from the World Food Program (WFP), the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).
“Managing severe pandemics is a shared priority for the United States and Nigeria,” declared Maria E. Brewer, who serves as the U.S. Embassy Abuja’s Deputy Chief of Mission. “Cooperation between nations, militaries and international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups is key to developing and maintaining disaster preparedness, so I am proud to be part of this event,” said Brewer, noting that over the last four years the United States has invested over $1.6 million as part of its commitment to this development effort.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, Deputy Commander for Military Operations for U.S. AFRICOM, and the senior DoD official present at the ceremony, noted that Nigeria is a regional leader and an important partner to the United States. He congratulated Nigeria’s government and the armed forces for progress made to develop a national plan for pandemic and disaster situations and stressed the importance of collaboration between countries and government agencies in order to combat pandemic issues.
“Multinational and multiagency plans and exercises are critical to effectively respond to these kinds of complex emergencies which will not stop at borders. We know not when disasters will strike, but we have to be sure that when one does, our efforts will make a difference. The good news is Nigeria will be better prepared to respond in ways to protect the interests of the Nigerian nation and its people. These plans will help save lives, property and resources,” said Hummer.
Other notables participating in the ceremony from Nigeria were Mr. Muhammad Sani Sidi, who is the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Dr. Nurudeen Muhammad, Federal Minister Foreign Affairs (FMOFA), and Mr. Abdulrazak Salawu, Federal Minister of Defense (FMOD), who, along with Professor Chukwu, unveiled the plans.
Among U.S. government officials who attended with Lt. Gen. Hummer and Ms Brewer was Dr. Jonathan Woodson, who serves as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
“The impact of unpreparedness goes beyond illness and death,” said Dr. Woodson. “If we fail to prepare for the event, it destabilizes national institutions, government and the economy with rippling second and third order effects.”
Woodson commended the efforts of the Nigerian government in developing a national response plan and noted the importance of working across agencies toward a common goal.
“It really represents a total commitment of the government in helping civil society to work together with the military to provide capability in the event that a disaster occurs, to mitigate what happens, to prepare and to be able to respond effectively,” said Woodson. “This represents the whole of government coming together in the right way.”
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise the plans
The ceremony also served as the kick-off point for a disaster preparedness training exercise which is sponsored by the U.S. Africa Command and is the result of a collaborative effort with the U.S. Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM).
A facilitator invited from Kenya to participate in the follow-on disaster preparedness exercise, retired Colonel Vincent Anami said the purpose of the plans is to enhance the capacity and capability of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its government in the area of disaster management with an emphasis on pandemics.
“The initiative is U.S. AFRICOM’s in partnership with other countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda,” Anami said. “This initiative is very important because pandemics are very mobile, and if it strikes, many will be affected.”
Erik Threet, AFRICOM’s Disaster Preparedness Program manager, stated that “the goal of the command’s Disaster Preparedness Program is to assist African nations in strengthening their capacities and capabilities to save lives and reduce human suffering during disasters.”
During the course of the exercise, which is scheduled to conclude November 22, participants will validate the Armed Forces of Nigeria Pandemic Contingency Plan and Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) Disaster Contingency Plan.
Participants will engage in a table-top exercise and develop a “5-Year Disaster Management Strategic Work Plan” for Nigeria.
This exercise to validate the new plans will assist in reviewing current capabilities and will also identify where the United States and Nigeria could further partner and collaborate to respond to complex emergency situations.
“As a regional leader, Nigeria’s capacity to respond to pandemics and other complex emergencies impacts the U.S. and regional interests,” said Hummer.
During their statements, the Nigerian top officials expressed their appreciation for the strategic partnership between the United States and Nigeria through AFRICOM and the assistance in developing extensive pandemic and disaster response plans for Nigeria.
“We appreciate the strong bilateral and international collaborations in these efforts,” Hummer said. “We look forward to expanding opportunities to work together, learn from each other and to build our combined capacity to deliver an effective and professional response that all citizens deserve.”
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