BEIRUT: Beirut’s southern suburbs are setting up one of the first local Civil Defense operation centers to respond to crises and fill the gap left by the central government’s limited emergency services.
The center is intended to provide a quick response to anything from apartment fires to natural disasters and wars in the packed and largely poor suburbs.
“At the central level the Civil Defense centers are lacking personnel, they are lacking equipment and interventions are slow,” Ghobeiri Mayor Mohammad Abu Said Khansa told The Daily Star.
“We need to continue to fill the gap from the central government level. We are a small government that wants to help provide what the citizens need.”
The municipalities are in the process of training 70 firefighters, paramedics, drivers and administrators, and purchasing a small fleet of fire trucks and emergency response vehicles. When operational, the center will be the first local civil defense center of its kind, separate from the national Civil Defense.
The $10 million civil defense center, located in the Ghobeiri municipality, is set to begin operation in the next two to three months. Partly financed by the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, the center will also cover the neighboring municipalities of Burj al-Barajneh, Haret Hreik and Mreijeh, potentially aiding hundreds of thousands of people.
The new center is part of a broad trend by municipalities to come up with homegrown solutions to the shortcomings of the central government.
The decision to navigate away from the national Civil Defense structure came after mayors saw repeated accidents across the country and a slow emergency response. The municipal union sought funding to protect their neighborhoods, in a way similar to many other cities around the world.
“Based on recent events where buildings and shops were set on fire and the slow reaction of Civil Defense centers, people asked at the municipal level, ‘Why was this happening?’” Khansa said.
He said mayors in the southern suburbs looked at other local civil defense centers in Italy, the U.K., Turkey and Iran and drew up plans to follow suit.
The Kuwaiti fund stepped in with the main bloc of funding to build the facility and provide some of the tools the center would need. The municipal union provided the rest of the funding including training, cars and the land.
After going operational in the next few months the center plans to add an infrastructure response team to treat breakdowns in the suburbs’ ailing water and electricity networks.
So far the municipal union of the southern suburbs has received a positive response from the government, with leading officials suggesting that more municipalities follow suit and create local civil defense centers of their own, Khansa said.