Minimising chemical weapons’ related damage and injuries is the main task entrusted to first responders during a chemical weapons emergency, and subsequently, was the focus of the International Advanced Course on Assistance and Protection against Chemical Weapons for first responders from Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa, from 16 to 21 October 2016 in Amman, Jordan.
“The impending threat of chemical weapons’ use by non-state actors has revived Member States interest in the role of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as the coordinator of emergency assistance, on a global scale,” Hamza Khelif, Director of International Cooperation and Assistance Division of the OPCW, noted during the course’s opening speech.
However, successfully providing this assistance is a complex undertaking and depends on both the quality of emergency assistance and effective coordination between the various agencies involved. Emergency trainings, such as this, help the OPCW ensure timely, adequate and efficient assistance is provided in such situations, to any of its Member States who request assistance against the use, or threat of, chemical weapons.
During the training, 22 first responders from Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and Jordan acquainted themselves with the toxic characteristics of chemical warfare agents and practiced first aid and administration of medical treatments for victims. They also learned how to protect individuals and groups from chemical weapons and techniques to effectively detect toxic chemicals, evacuate civilians, and methods of decontamination.
“This course not only builds capacity, but also expands regional cooperation in the field of assistance and protection against chemical weapons. Exchanging ideas and solutions is absolutely essential in building an effective response system to counteract the threat of use or the actual use of chemical weapons,” Shahriar Khateri, OPCW’s Senior Assistance and Protection Officer explained.
The Amman training was co-organised by the OPCW’s International Cooperation and Assistance Division and the Jordan Armed Forces, and was conducted in the regional CBRN Training Centre of Excellence in Amman. The course was designed to build upon a previous basic course for Arabic-speaking first respondents in the Middle East and North Africa, held in Muscat, Oman in April 2016.
The Chemical Weapons Convention comprehensively prohibits the use, development, production, storage and transfer of chemical weapons. Any chemical used for warfare is considered a chemical weapon by the Convention. The OPCW is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention and oversees the global endeavour to permanently eliminate chemical weapons.
The Convention entered into force in 1997. With 192 countries obligating themselves to the CWC, it is the most successful disarmament treaty in existence, eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. To date, over 93 per cent of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by possessor states have been destroyed under OPCW verification. For its extensive efforts in eliminating chemical weapons, the OPCW received the 2013 Nobel Prize for Peace.