Monday, 24 May 2010

Regional countries join disaster response effort

By Bojana Milovanović for Southeast European Times
Plans for an emergency response centre in Nis have received wide backing, though a planned role for Russia has raised some eyebrows.The ministers discussed implementing a regional emergency response centre. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Southeast European interior ministers gathered in Belgrade last week to discuss natural disaster emergency response, with the aim of opening a regional response centre in the Serbian city of Nis. Representatives of 19 regional countries participated in the event.

The February 17th conference was a follow-up to last year's agreement between Russia and Serbia, which envisions a regional centre that would co-ordinate countries' responses to natural disasters. The centre is scheduled to open in 2012.

Serbian Interior Ministry Emergency Situations Sector chief Predrag Maric told SETimes that 19 countries at the Belgrade conference backed the centre, expressing a desire for involvement in the project.

The official list of participating countries will be released in a few months. Apart from countries in the region -- Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Slovenia -- support is also expected from Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Cyprus and Greece.

"In the following months, we will define the working conditions, the funds necessary for the centre's opening, organisation and jurisdiction. After that, the countries will officially decide on their involvement in the project," Maric said.

Although Moscow will provide some of the equipment, officials quashed rumours that the centre would actually be a Russian military base.

"This is not a political but rather a humanitarian effort to rescue people and property. There was no mention of a military involvement, only humanitarian, when aid is necessary," Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said.

Russian Minister for Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu said the rumours were "complete nonsense".

"The centre will simply aid countries in the region in cases of fire extinguishing or other disaster prevention emergencies, employing experts who wish to help rather than wage war," he said, inviting all interested to visit the centre after it opens.

Russia's involvement will help create a centre that can assist any regional country in the event of fire, flood or earthquake, Dacic said.

"The centre would have a Russian fire fighting aircraft to minimise necessary reaction time in a disaster case, in any Balkan country. We would jointly train the personnel, as the entire region is exposed to natural disasters that could strike region-wide," Dacic said.

Such steps can help minimise the number of potential victims and damage, he added.
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