"This is the first time in Uzbekistan and Central Asia that there has been a joint exercise of this scope," NATO press officer, Ariane Quentier told IRIN from Brussels, emphasising the high level of international cooperation where regional rivalries often predominate. "Regional cooperation is not the cardinal virtue here."
According to Quentier, representatives from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan were also present, adding a team from neighbouring Tajikistan was also scheduled to come had it not been for floods that impacted that country two weeks earlier, illustrating how common natural disasters are in this region.
As part of the scenario, an earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale, struck the region in the early hours of Sunday, killing 250 and injuring 8,000. Following an assessment of the region, Uzbekistan is confronted with a substantial number of casualties as well as serious damage and consequently requests international assistance.
The exercise is taking place on five sites in the vicinity of the cities of Ferghana and Vodil, where the topography provides for excellent conditions for conducting the exercise as well as for viewing it. The training is expected to build upon experiences and lessons learnt by Uzbekistan and other partner nations in the region during such disasters in previous years.
Commenting on regional disaster preparedness levels, the NATO official said while such calamities are hardly new to the region - noting a devastating earthquake that leveled the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, in 1966 - what was new was the degree of international cooperation taking place. "We hope this will lead to greater cooperation in dealing with such disasters on a regional basis," she said.
Around 1,000 personnel from Uzbekistan and 225 from 19 other countries are participating. "We have the full participation of the UN and their disaster response mechanism," she added.
"These are exactly the type of preparedness exercises that are needed," she said, citing the landslides that ripped through Tajikistan two weeks earlier and one week earlier in Kyrgyzstan. "It does happen. It's not something new."
Additionally, the exercise is also an example of practical cooperation between NATO and the United Nations. "We have the full participation of the UN and their disaster response mechanism," Quentier said. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (ISRAG) are participating and have an active role in ensuring that established procedures in international disaster response are applied.
During the exercise, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team is deployed to Ferghana, to assist the United Nations Resident Coordinator and national authorities with the coordination of international responders on site.
The three-day exercise, concluding on Wednesday, is seen as an important step in establishing regional cooperation amongst the various disaster relief units in Central Asia and NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Unit.
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