FORCE OF NATURE

Azerbaijan 2012 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Colonel-General Kamaladdin Heydarov, Minister of Emergency Situations, on key reforms, flood control, and international cooperation.

Colonel-General Kamaladdin Heydarov
BIOGRAPHY
Born in 1961, Colonel-General Kamaladdin Heydarov studied geology and international law and began his career at Caspneftegazgeofizrazvedka, a geophysical trust where he held various positions between 1978 and 1988. Having headed different public and private organizations in the period between 1988 and 1995, he was appointed as the Chairman of the State Customs Committee of Azerbaijan Republic in 1995 and received the rank of Colonel-General of the Customs Service on January 17, 2002. On February 6, 2006 he was appointed the Minister of Emergency Situations. Kamaladdin Heydarov has been the President of the Azerbaijan Taekwondo Federation since December 27, 1999 and the President of the Azerbaijan Boxing Federation since January 23, 2009. On April 12, 2005 he was elected the Vice-President of the World Taekwondo Federation.

What are the key reforms the Ministry has implemented since it was established in 2005?

The Ministry of Emergency Situations was established on December 16, 2005 to prevent and reduce the consequences of natural and man-made disasters and forest fires; centralize rescue and rehabilitation management; and organize and implement a civil defense network for the country. We also aim to increase awareness of natural and technogenic disasters, eliminate their consequences, and strengthen the systematic approach to crisis management at the state level. Changes to the Ministry's structure and regulatory framework have been continuously carried out; a material-technical basis and material resources have been established; information about emergency situations has been disseminated among different agencies; and activities concerning the elimination of consequences have been coordinated.

Over the past few years, we have purchased and upgraded our materials and equipment. We have invested in special-purpose emergency vehicles, training equipment, and specialized clothing and uniforms for the State Fire Protection Service and Special Risk Rescue Service. We have also acquired a variety of specialized vehicles such as boats, scooters, planes, and helicopters for the State Water Rescue Service and the Aviation Group. Furthermore, we have purchased specialized medical and rescue equipment for the Medical Service. Thus, thanks to the special care of the management of the country, the Ministry has become a fully and technologically equipped mobile entity capable of fulfilling all of its duties. Meanwhile, the Ministry has established its own training academy in order to train personnel and conduct scientific research in the field of emergency situations. Over the last decade, the personnel of the Ministry have successfully taken part in rescue operations such as large-scale firefighting, structural collapses, explosions, accidents, landslides, mudflows and floods, and other natural and man-made disasters.

What are some of the major policies the Ministry has implemented to lower the level of road fatalities and work-related accidents?

We established and equipped rescue groups in 12 regions able to respond immediately to emergency situations. They conducted numerous rescue operations in response to transportation accidents in 2011. Hundreds of injured people were rescued from damaged vehicles and brought to medical care facilities. We have also analyzed current road, rail, bridge, and intersection technical data in order to install effective security devices. Every year, the Ministry's specialists supervise and conduct technical examinations on more than 100,000 installations and equipment in the oil and gas industry, and fuel and natural gas facilities. We are also aiming to protect the environment by monitoring the mining, metallurgy, chemicals, petrochemicals, and oil and gas processing sectors, as well as the transportation of dangerous goods by rail, road, and pipeline. Additionally, we control workers' safety in order to prevent accidents and eliminate potential risks. Moreover, thousands of workers and engineering technical staff are focused on studying safety regulations every year. We aim to raise awareness of civil defense and the rules of conduct during any emergency situation, and we hold regular public awareness events in various educational institutions, establishments, and organizations. Information on accidents and rules of behavior during disasters can be found on the Ministry's website and newspaper.

Since the floods that affected Azerbaijan in the spring and summer of 2010, how has the Ministry worked to strengthen riverbanks and improve the natural disaster response system?

Thousands of workers, helicopters and rescue boats, and a large quantity of equipment were used in the Ministry's active rescue operation during the heavy rainfall and flooding in 2010. The level of groundwater rapidly rose in coastal areas, and the Kura and Aras rivers overflowed their banks. We brought this natural disaster under control, thanks to our constant awareness of the events and the urgent measures taken. Most importantly, we were able to prevent the loss of human life. The people evacuated from the disaster area were relocated to temporary shelters and camps, and the necessary infrastructure was established for the convenience of the temporary settled population. We were able to meet all their needs, especially in terms of health and safety, through the medical offices we set up in the camps. We investigated the causes of the flood, and we have undertaken reconstruction projects by strengthening damaged dams and repairing more than 300 kilometers of the Kura River system. We have taken the necessary steps to eliminate future risks and improve security measures in areas along waterways, such as conducting comprehensive research and investigations with specialists from Dutch companies.

The volume of the Kura and Araz rivers was determined by models and the water consumption of both rivers was calculated. Taking into account these calculations and as a result of the temporary working regime of the Mingachevir water reservoir, we were able to avoid the floods in 2011 despite the same volume of water flowing compared to 2010. Under the Ministry, we established the State Agency for Water Resources to improve the management of water resources in the country.

How important is international cooperation in improving employee skills in the field of emergency services?

Since the Ministry of Emergency Situations was founded, the development of international cooperation has been one of its highest priorities. Therefore, over the last few years we have developed cooperative ties with relevant bodies in the US, Russia, France, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey, Korea, Bulgaria, Romania, the UK, Israel, Kazakhstan, Germany, Qatar, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Georgia . The Ministry has also achieved sustainable relations with the UN, OSCE, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization, the International Civil Defense Organization (ICDO), the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), as well as with other international and regional organizations. In addition, the Ministry's rescue workers have participated in the training sessions of many international organizations in the past few years, such as NATO.

How would you assess the role of Azerbaijan as a regional contributor to emergency rescue and humanitarian operations abroad?

One of the President of Azerbaijan's main characteristics is his goodwill in terms of assisting other countries that face emergency situations. In accordance with the task of the President, the Ministry has taken an active part in several international rescue operations, delivering humanitarian cargo and sending aid. Azerbaijani rescue personnel have participated in efforts to help people affected by floods in Pakistan and earthquakes in Iran and Turkey. For example, 213 rescue workers from the Ministry were sent immediately to the earthquake zone in the Turkish province of Van. In 2010, our rescue workers took part in the prevention of two large-scale natural disasters in foreign countries. The Aviation Group dispatched two helicopters with 19 rescue workers to help extinguish large-scale forest fires in Russia. Two helicopters with 16 technical personnel were also involved in putting out fires around the city of Haifa in Israel. The relevant services of several countries have praised the Ministry's material-technical base, high-level skills, the professionalism of its personnel, the effective methods and tools it uses for prevention, its management of emergency situations, and elimination of possible side effects. Currently, our rescue personnel, supplied with modern aviation and fire-fighting equipment, mobile hospitals, and other necessary technical agencies, are ready to take an active role in rescue operations abroad at any time.

What are the core priorities for the Ministry over the next few years?

Our high-priority duties include the completion of the structural formation of the Ministry, the improvement of our regional centers' activity, the development of quality content and services in all of our organizations, the refinement of our legal framework, and the enhancement of international cooperation.