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Tanzania Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, March 2011
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Image by US Army Africa
Hamida Khamis (left), Tanzanian Disaster Management Department, and Col. Vincent Anami, Kenyan National Disaster Operations Center, discuss potential disaster response scenarios at the week-long Tanzania National Government Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop in Arusha, Tanzania.

Photo by Khalfan Said, U.S. Embassy, Tanzania

The Tanzania National Government Pandemic Response Tabletop Exercise opened March 7, 2011, in Arusha, Tanzania.

The event convened with remarks from several guest speakers, who spoke on how imperative disaster preparedness and response is to the security of Tanzania.

During his welcoming remarks, Chief of Security Cooperation for the U.S. Embassy to Tanzania, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin Balisky, discussed the critical importance of cooperation among national militaries and civil authority leaders, as well as international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and other civil society groups, all of whom must work together to mitigate and recover from pandemic disaster.

The exercise itself is an example of the power of collaboration. It is hosted by the government of Tanzania; organized by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany; supported by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine; and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

In addition to representatives from all levels of the Tanzanian government, the five-day event brings together over 100 professionals from many diverse organizations such as the World Food Program, the National Disaster Operations Center in Kenya, the National Emergency Management Agency of Nigeria, the UN World Health and Food and Agriculture Organizations, the Ghana Ministry of Defense, and UNICEF. All will take part and contribute to the exercise.

“This exercise is designed to strengthen the government of Tanzania’s national preparedness and response plan, which will be the guiding document during a severe pandemic complex emergency,” Balisky said.

Among the first morning’s speakers, John Power, East Africa Regional Deputy Director for USAID, spoke of a “whole of government” approach to pandemic response.

At the end of 2008, using funds provided by the U.S. Congress, USAID signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense to fund the Pandemic Response Program. The program established a close working relationship among USAID, AFRICOM and U.S. Pacific Command to enhance their foreign partner military capacity to respond to pandemics in these two geographic regions.

“What is different about this program is that the Pandemic Response Program, although implemented by the U.S. military, is structured more like a traditional USAID project with a focus on long-term sustainable results. It provides an excellent example of a new whole of government approach where you will begin to see much closer linkages between the efforts of American diplomats, military staff, and development professionals in selected countries, including Tanzania,” Power said.

“Our Pandemic Response Program will continue to have a regional focus to help improve the capacity for regional collaboration in the event of a complex humanitarian emergency,” said Brig. Gen. William Glasgow, Deputy Commander, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.

“Let us not forget that the 2009 H1-N1 outbreak highlighted the critical importance of a holistic approach required of government, civil society and the military to mitigate the effects of a complex humanitarian emergency like a severe pandemic outbreak; hence, the purpose of this exercise this week,” Glasgow said.

The role of AFRICOM’s Pandemic Response Program is to assist in strengthening African partner military nations capacity to respond to a pandemic in support of the national pandemic preparedness and response plan. To this end, AFRICOM’s overall objectives for the Pandemic Response Program are that senior- and mid-level military leaders are prepared to support their nation’s plan in disaster management and humanitarian assistance, with a particular focus on severe pandemics.

It is also AFRICOM’s goal that each military in USAID’s targeted pandemic preparedness countries have a developed, detailed contingency plan that directly supports the national preparedness response plans to an influenza pandemic disaster.

The conference’s first day ended with a visit to the Tanzanian National Food Reserve Agency in Arusha. The Pandemic Disaster Response conference will continue tomorrow with plenary talks, facilitated lectures and lessons-learned discussions. The tabletop exercise portion of the event will begin Wednesday and continue through Friday.

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