Lebanon News

Disaster response training begins at Beirut airport

UNDP and DHL teams are working with airport staff to create contingency plans for a disaster. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: As Lebanon felt the tremors from an earthquake originating in the Greek island of Rhodes, staff members at the national airport were learning how to better respond to natural disasters.

The United Nations Development Program and DHL delivery company began a workshop Monday that aims to give the employees at Rafik Hariri International Airport more tools and knowledge for receiving and distributing aid during crisis situations like natural disasters.

The program aims to set up the airport’s infrastructure so that it will avoid bottlenecks of aid delivery and mass departures of people that often occur during the chaos of a disaster situation.

“Over the past 10 years, these disasters affected more than 2 billion people and cost a minimum of $960 billion,” UNDP resident representative Robert Watkins said.

“Lebanon is not far from these realities. The country is subjected to a range of natural hazards, and as other countries in the region, the largest, single, natural disaster threat is that of a severe earthquake and/or an associated tsunami,” Watkins said.

Lebanon and the region are under a constant risk of earthquake. An earthquake struck in Rhodes Monday that was felt in Beirut and a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey in June. Another earthquake hit Turkey in 2011, killing nearly 300 people.

Geological experts continue to warn of the possibility of a severe earthquake that could cause major damage as the Levant region falls near a tectonic fault line.

International war may also loom on the horizon, but it’s unlikely Lebanon’s airways would remain open during a conflict. The airport was severely damaged during the 2006 summer war with Israel, and the Israelis closed Lebanese airspace for months before the airport could return to normal operation.

UNDP and DHL teams will work with around 30 members of the airport staff to create contingency plans during a disaster. The teams will also assess the airport’s maximum rate of transporting goods and people and how to reach that level during a disaster.

“The importance of airports during the immediate aftermath of any disaster event cannot be understated. They oftentimes constitute the front line of response,” Watkins said.

The program will offer a list of larger scale recommendations to Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi at the end of the week, said Mirna Sabbagh, crisis prevention and recovery program officer at UNDP, who will be working on the assessment.

She said disaster response teams will also be available during any calamity through the partnership.

Training for road closures due to tire burnings was not included in the workshop. Recent protests in the country have closed the airport road, causing a logistics nightmare for arriving and departing passengers.

The disaster training offered by UNDP and DHL is a program that has already been offered in Indonesia, Nepal and Bangladesh after its development in 2009.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 10, 2012, on page 4.

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