Helping Hands – International Cooperation in Disaster Operations Interview with Nawaf Al-Sleibi, Secretary-General of the International Civil Defence Organization (ICDO)

Nawaf Al-Sleibi is a modest and a practical man who likes to see concrete results …He is here to make the world a safer and better place for everybody by providing a well developed civil defence system. The Secretary-General of ICDO has a long and impressive record having developed the civil defence system in his native Jordan – one of the best in the region.
The forerunner of ICDO was founded in 1931 when the French Surgeon-General, Georges Saint-Paul, founded the « Lieux de Genève Association » in Paris. Already in peacetime the idea was to create in all countries well defined safety zones established on a permanent basis through bilateral or international agreements. In 1935, on the initiative of the « Geneva Zones Association », the French Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution inviting the League of Nations to study the means of creating in every country « localities, places or zones which would in case of armed conflict be preserved from all combat and use for military purposes ». Upon the death of Surgeon-General Saint-Paul in 1937, and at his request, the Association was transferred from Paris to Geneva and became the International Association for the Protection of Civilian Populations and Historic Buildings in Wartime. Over the years the Organization expanded its work and in 1977 it became the International Civil Defence Organization – ICDO.
Today ICDO is a well known intergovern-mental organization. Civil Defence, in those countries where it exists, is the first service to intervene among the local population in all types of natural and man-made disasters – forest fires, earthquakes, floods, etc.
Q. Could you tell us about your Organization?
The International Civil Defence Organization is an intergovernmental organization whose objective is to contribute to the development by States of structures ensuring the protection and assistance of populations and safeguarding property and the environment in the event of natural or man-made disasters.
The subject of international cooperation in the field of civil defence is extremely important and one which, in view of the number and scale of disasters in the world, be they of natural or human origin, still requires constant attention, improvement and refinement.
ICDO contributes to the design and use of instruments for cooperation between national civil defence structures. The Organization coordinates mutual assistance operations between national defence structures both to prevent disaster and intervene when they occur with exchange of expertise, coordination of rescue activities etc. Moreover ICDO promotes a common culture in civil defence matters through, for example, dissemination of the rules of International Humanitarian Law relating to civil defence.
Today we have fifty members and sixteen observers including some international organizations, universities and NGOs. ICDO consists of three organs: First the General Assembly consisting of all member countries. Delegates meet biannually to discuss programmes and improvement planning for the ensuing two years. The Executive Council follows up the programme approved by the General Assembly to ensure the Organization’s Permanent Secretariat is correctly implementing the work. The third part is the Permanent Secretariat which fulfills the desisions of the General Assambly and Executive Counsil.
Most of ICDO activities deal with training and trying to build special relations between the Organization and its members. Its aim has been to enforce the laws for civil protection, to establish special structures for civil protection with capacity building for national civil defence systems, civil defence or emergency services which, as you may know, come under the same umbrella. This is why we need- to explain what we are doing and describe the services that we provide.
Q. Could you elaborate on the training ICDO organises?
We presently have more than ten regional centres around the world where we offer free training on civil protection in Arabic, English, French and Russian. Each year we have between 250 and 350 participants attending training courses (training of national civil defence staff) in our regional centres in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Tunisia.
For instance the Emergency Situation Management course held in English in Nanning, China, was attended by delegates from eleven countries. It provided participants with a detailed insight into the role of emergency rescue officials. At Mongolia’s request, the Permanent Secretariat brought together a group of international experts for a mission to evaluate the country’s civil defence system.
The 2009 training programme saw 162 delegates participating in fifteen training sessions. The Permanent Secretariat also finalised the programme for 2010 while proposing a number of innovations to its training course programme.
A case in point is the brand new ICDO Regional Training Centre in Jordan. For the first time it hosted a training session at the Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II Civil Defence Academy. This was a capacity building course for civil defence
- officers organised jointly by the Jordanian Civil Defence, the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences (NAUSS – Saudi Arabia) and ICDO.
ICDO will offer two new seminars in 2010. The first will be organised by the Ministry for Emergency Situations of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk in September. It will cover management of accidents caused by leakage of hazardous chemical products. The second on psychological support will take place in Spasatel, near Moscow, in collaboration with EMERCOM of Russia.
The 2010 training programme includes a number of training sessions organised jointly with the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, St. Petersburg University of the State Fire-fighting Service of EMERCOM of Russia, the Rescue Troops of the Swiss Army, the Civil Defence Service of the City of Geneva and the different regional ICDO training centres.
ICDO also offers special missions to evaluate the civil protection situation resulting from natural or man-made disasters. We have presently completed around fifteen international projects and missions around the world with humanitarian assistance in Haiti and demining projects in Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Serbia. In 2010 we will have a project in Kyrgyzstan to strengthen the national Civil Defence service. Total cost of humanitarian projects since 2007 is around 100 million US dollars. The main strategy of ICDO is to perform its work with a minimum of staff and maximum efficiency.
ICDO is an independent, non-political body and the only professional organization in the field of civil defence protection. It maintains a strong and direct relationship with its members, other humanitarian bodies and training institutions and universities involved in this work.
Q. You represent a « practical humanitarian organization ». Are your members the first to arrive at a humanitarian disaster?
It can take up to two days for help to arrive from neighbouring countries. Because of this, for example in Armenia, Russia or wher-ever, it is always the national civil defence, fire fighters, emergency services and others who are first. They are present before and after the disaster and do a great job to try to restore life to normal with their organization, equipment and experience.
One of our principal tasks is the exchange of experience. With progress in countries of Africa or the Middle East, we offer a platform for exchange of knowledge and training and in the transfer of experience.
There are many civil defence organizations taking shape in the Gulf area in particular. ICDO is happy with this development and is pleased to note the increase in understanding of the importance and need for civil protection .
We have also launched contacts in Latin America where the economic level has improved allowing us to make good progress to develop this activity.
Leaving the office of Nawaf Al-Sleibi, Secretary-General of the International Civil Defence Orgnization, one could only wish that more people would listen to him.