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Tajikistan to build training centre for rescue workers in Central Asia, Afghanistan

By Negmatullo Mirsaidov

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Afghan rescue workers walk in a line into a snowbound village in the mountainous northeastern Afghanistan province of Badakhshan in 2012 after heavy snowfalls and avalanches killed dozens. [AFP]

DUSHANBE -- A new training centre in Tajikistan is expected to develop and improve the skills of rescue workers across the region and help Central Asian states, as well as Afghanistan, to co-ordinate their efforts in coping with natural disasters.

The facility will occupy the site of a former military unit near Karatag settlement in Shahrinav district, in the Gissar Valley, according to the Tajik Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defence (CoESCD).

The committee plans to renovate existing facilities and to build additional buildings if needed.

"We will jointly complete the upgrade of the building with the support of project partners by 2022," said CoESCD chief Rustam Nazarzoda on January 19, at the project's opening ceremony. "This training centre is the only facility to provide training in eliminating the consequences of natural disaster risks in Central Asia."

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Ambassadors from various countries attend the ceremony marking the start of construction and renovation on the training centre for rescue workers in Karatag settlement, Shahrinav district, Tajikistan, on January 19. [Tajik CoESCD]

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Valeriu Chiveri, head of the OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe, spoke about the work the partners must perform on the site of the training centre in Karatag settlement, Shahrinav district, Tajikistan, at the opening ceremony on January 19. [Tajik CoESCD]

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An exhibit explaining the construction and renovation plan for the training centre for rescue workers from Tajikistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries is shown in Karatag settlement, Shahrinav district, Tajikistan, January 19. [Tajik CoESCD]

The project is funded by the European Union (EU), while the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the CoESCD are jointly implementing it.

The project "marks a new and unique co-operation between the government of Tajikistan, the [EU] and the OSCE in the area of strengthening National Civil Defence capacity and border co-operation with Afghanistan", Marilyn Josefson, the EU ambassador to Tajikistan, said at the opening ceremony.

"The [EU] hopes that this first phase will stimulate further co-operation in this area and deepen the Tajik government's engagement in ... natural disaster reduction management with the [EU] and its member states," she added.

Perfect location

Besides the land belonging to the former military unit, the CoESCD will receive the military training ground and some adjoining plots of land in the foothills that will be used for special training for the rescue workers, Caravanserai learned from the Shahrinav district government.

The National Training Centre, occupying a setting typical to the region, will cover 28 hectares and hold living quarters, a cafeteria, facilities where trainees can practice the skills they need for the job.

The foothills of the Gissar mountain range are the best place to practice the skills that Tajik and Afghan rescuers often need in mountain settings, said Jabbor Nosirzoda, head of the Shahrinav district government.

In addition to the training facilities and simulated scenarios, "the rescue workers will be able to take advantage of purely natural conditions to perfect their skills", he said.

"Mudslides, rock climbing, rockslides, avalanches and the need to ford streams are the obstacles rescue workers most often encounter in countries with mostly mountainous terrain," he added.

Project phases

After the first phase -- the renovation of the dormitory and cafeteria -- the centre will start accepting students and resume the rescue worker training programme, says the OSCE.

The second phase includes the construction of the sports facilities, obstacle course, climbing wall and other infrastructure crucial for improving rescue workers' skills.

The programme to train specialists as part of Central Asian co-operation will then begin.

"A needs assessment conducted a few years ago found an acute need to provide systematic training for rescue workers from the regional units, who currently acquire their expertise only sporadically," said Valeriu Chiveri, head of the OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe.

"We aim to help make it easier for rescue workers to boost their qualifications, which will enable them to aid victims of natural disasters more efficiently," he said.

The training centre will be able to stage specialised workshops for rescue workers from the other Central Asian countries and Afghanistan, he said.

"Holding workshops for these international participants will not only help Tajikistan's neighbours increase their own capabilities in responding to natural disasters, but also will promote regional co-operation on security, which is one of the major objectives of the OSCE," he said.

Co-ordinated actions essential

Creating the training centre for rescue workers is equally important for Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan Muhammad Zohir Aghbar told Caravanserai.

The two countries share a 1,360km-long border and roughly the same topography, he said.

"Natural disasters do not pay attention to borders. Earthquakes, mudslides, floods and insect invasions in the border districts can cause colossal damage on both sides," Aghbar said.

"That's why it is crucial to minimise the damage. Timely responses, co-ordinated actions and trained rescue workers are what we need now."

"Creating conditions to train at Tajikistan's National Training Centre ... can expand prospects for Central Asian countries and Afghanistan to continually share their experiences, co-ordinate with each other and join forces to clean up from the aftermath of natural disasters," he said.

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