BEIRUT: Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud stressed on Friday the importance of boosting the country’s ability to face potential natural disasters and emergencies, adding that an “elite force” was in the works for such eventualities.
“It’s abnormal if we don’t brace ourselves for catastrophes while most countries are doing so. Let us hope that nothing bad will take place in Lebanon, and at the same time be ready to deal with any tragic event that might happen,” Baroud said.
In late January, an Ethiopian Airlines flight plunged into the sea minutes after taking off from Rafik Hariri International Airport, killing all 90 passengers and crew, as an international search effort was launched for possible survivors and debris, including the black box of the craft.
In December, a ship carrying cattle sank near Tripoli, and 52 out of 83 passengers were eventually rescued.
The minister made his remarks during a ceremony at the Civil Defense offices in Tahwita, which honored graduates of the first stage of a search and rescue training program, and saw search and rescue equipment and fire fighting trucks delivered to the Civil Defense. The training project is funded by the French government and managed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Also on hand were France’s Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pieton, the UNDP’s resident representative Marta Ruedas, and head of the Civil Defense, General Darwish Hobeika.
Baroud thanked France for its support of Civil Defense training and underlined the need to support the Civil Defense with equipment and human resources. “The UNDP and many friendly states are providing us with the needed hardware,” he said.
The minister also expressed his dissatisfaction because many Civil Defense members aren’t being replaced after retirement, while many active personnel are still considered volunteers and haven’t become permanent, full-time employees yet.
“This government is the first to ever seriously address this issue. A draft law granting Civil Defense volunteers permanent, full-time employment will soon be sent by the Interior Ministry to the government,” Baroud said, voicing confidence that the Cabinet would approve the draft.
The minister stressed the necessity of cooperation between the Civil Defense and other governmental agencies in the times of disasters.
“We are in the process of forming an elite force tasked with shouldering tough missions,” Baroud noted.
He said the unit will initially be comprised of a small number of personnel and later expanded. Baroud added that the elite force would be partially equipped by Paris.
Ruedas explained the need for the formation of the training program.
“Given that the world is currently witnessing numerous disasters, which haven’t spared Lebanon, a project was launched in the premier’s office seeking to improve the government’s disaster management capability and develop a strategy to reduce dangers,” she said.
Ruedas added that the Civil Defense plays a major role in this field since it’s the first organization that’s usually tasked with confronting disasters.
“This project aims at training 100 men and women as members of search and rescue teams. Today we are done with the first stage, whereby 19 members will receive their certificates after they have spent two weeks of training with French experts,” the UNDP official said.
The second stage, Ruedas said, would see the selection of individuals for further training, to allow them to head search and rescue teams, as well as train other Civil Defense members.