Azerbaijan 2013 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Colonel-General Kamaladdin Heydarov, Minister of Emergency Situations, on preparing for natural disasters and the need for international cooperation.

Colonel-General Kamaladdin Heydarov
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 kind of work has been carried out by the Ministry to prepare for large-scale earthquakes and other natural disasters?

The Caucasus, a part of the Alpine-Himalayan belt, is one of the most seismically active zones in the world, and Azerbaijan's territory is characterized as a high-tectonic area. Since ancient times, strong and catastrophic earthquakes have caused a large amount of human loss and destruction. Since the Ministry has been operating, the best practices of the most advanced countries have been applied for the purpose of improving warning systems for natural and man-made disasters, as well as for the realization of emergency risk evaluation work and the formation and supply of monitoring networks with state-of-art technologies. We have set up early warning systems for natural disasters, and a lot of work has been carried out to educate people about natural and man-made disasters. Comprehensive information on the code of conduct during emergencies is regularly published on the official website and in the newspaper of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. For this purpose, meetings are conducted in different businesses and educational institutions by different bodies and regional centers of the Ministry, where booklets, brochures, and posters are prepared as well as different kinds of competitions and contests are held for the purpose of generating a life safety culture among the youth. At the same time, particular attention is attached to the protection of the population and territories against natural and man-made disasters with the improvement of the civil defense system by providing the prompt elimination of the consequences of disasters. We are also increasing the preparation level of our civil defense forces, developing opportunities to effectively realize search and rescue operations in high-risk conditions, and strengthening training programs regarding organizing the evacuation of population, material, and spiritual wealth to safe territories to minimize losses. As a result of a grade-seven earthquake—the epicenter being in the Zagatala region—residential buildings and infrastructure in the Zagatala, Balakan, and Gakh regions were seriously damaged. The command center for the earthquake was established promptly and rescue forces mobilized to the region in cooperation with local forces launched the process for the search and rescue and evacuation of victims, as well as rendering first aid to them. Also, the appropriate measures have been taken to define the extent of damage to local infrastructure and social objects. The Ministry sent tents, food, and construction materials to the population in these regions. In addition, commissions consisting of experts of related bodies to the Ministry inspected damaged buildings and infrastructure, and construction work has begun in the abovementioned regions with AZN20 million allocated from the President's Reserve Fund according to the instructions of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, with AZN300 million more allocated in accordance with the state budget of 2012. At the moment, necessary measures are being taken for the timely completion of this important task given by the head of state. On the other hand, for the purpose of protecting the population and territories from floods, overflows, and inundation, complex measures for the improvement of the management system of underground and surface water resources in the country, providing reliable protection of important water reservoirs, technical safety of hydro-junctions, water reservoir dams, river protection, canal dams, collector-drainage systems, and related hydro-technical installations, have been taken. In this regard, the State Water Resources Agency of the Ministry of Emergency Situations was established in 2011 on the basis of a presidential decree, which was a very important and progressive step.

Training plays an important role in building capacity to respond to emergencies. How is the Ministry involved in this area?

We give great importance to training for the purpose of increasing the proficiency of staff as well as strengthening their knowledge and skills. Over the years, our employees have participated in local and international training programs organized by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, as well as by other authorities and international organizations. Additionally, a number of training programs have been organized at the ministerial level and throughout different bodies in the Ministry. I want to mention some special events that have been held such as the “Caspian 2010" training program, which was held on December 16, 2010. All kinds of rescue forces from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, such as personnel, aircraft, helicopters, ships, firefighting vehicles, and other special vehicles were involved in this training program, and large-scale operations for rescue on sea and on shore were staged. On January 24-25, 2011, a tabletop exercise on the topic of “Flood management, water treatment, and public health issues" was held in Baku with the participation of representatives from the Office of Military Cooperation of the US Embassy in Azerbaijan, the Headquarters of the US Land Forces on public health issues, delegations of the Armed Forces representing the European Headquarters, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, and the Azerenergy and Azersu joint-stock companies. From July 25-28, 2011, a tabletop exercise on the topic of “Inter-ministerial relations" was held in Baku with the participation of representatives from the Office of Military Cooperation of the US Embassy in Azerbaijan, as well as delegations representing the US Army Corps of Engineers, Ministry of Emergency Situations, and other relevant bodies. In addition, from August 27 to September 2, 2011, the Search and Rescue Team of the Ministry of Emergency Situations participated in the international exercise “CODRII – 2011," which was held in Moldova and was organized by NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC). On September 29, 2011, training on the topic of “Organizing the joint activity of relevant bodies and rescue services of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, and the Republic of Kazakhstan in the elimination of the consequences of emergencies resulting from tanker collisions with unknown ships in the territory of stationary oil platforms" was held in the northern part of the Caspian Sea in the Yuri Korchagin oil field of LUKOIL OSC. On May 17, 2012, an exercise was held with the participation of relevant forces of the Ministry of Emergency Situations for the purpose of the timely prevention and quick elimination of the consequences of emergencies that could happen during the Eurovision 2012 Song Contest, and on May 19, 2012 an exercise was held by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Health, the Special State Protection Service, and State Cross-Border Service during this contest. From September 22-28, 2012, the Azerbaijan's search and rescue (SAR) team participated in the NATO EADRCC exercise held in Tbilisi, Georgia. Azerbaijan's SAR team was the largest team in the exercise, participating with 12 vehicles and 70 personnel. Overall, some 30 teams participated in the exercise.

What types of measures are being taken in the country to prevent nuclear and radiological accidents?

For the purpose of regulating attitudes in the field of nuclear and radiological safety in the Republic and the proper fulfillment of international obligations binding upon it, the State Agency for the Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activity of the Ministry of Emergency Situations was established in accordance with Decree No. 746 of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, dated April 24, 2008. This state agency is an executive body participating in ensuring the nuclear and radiological safety of the population and territories, and the development of state policy on the regulation of nuclear and radiological activities. Thus, preparations for radiation accidents and the existence of response plans and their compliance with the danger, proper personnel preparation, and logistical means are controlled by the Agency during inspections carried out with the establishment and organization of the country containing radioactive elements. However, as response measures for nuclear and radiological accidents at the institutional and organizational level are not enough, we attach great importance to cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to increase the preparation level for radiological accidents. For the purpose of protecting and correctly informing the population during large-scale nuclear and radiological accidents and taking urgent measures against radiation accidents, we proposed to benefit from the services of the Incident and Emergency Centre of the IAEA, being a coordination center during radiological and nuclear accidents functioning on a 24/7 basis without a break for rendering urgent aid. This is an operative coordination and information body providing prompt response measures on the basis of prepared mechanisms by mutual interaction between the IAEA and competent bodies. The IAEA highly appreciated our suggestions. Joining the Incident and Emergency Centre of the IAEA, the State Agency for the Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activity has been appointed as the National Competent Body and the Crisis Management Center and National Warning Point in the country. In order to increase preparation levels for nuclear and radiological accidents in the country and to carry out prompt and effective response measures, a new technical cooperation project called the “Support for the preparation of a local radiological accident plan" has been launched by the Ministry in cooperation with the IAEA. The project's execution phase covers 2012 and 2013. Under the project, it is intended to develop the National Plan for Radiological Disasters agreed with concerned bodies by defining the state bodies in Azerbaijan involved in each phase of the preparation and response to radiological disasters. Necessary arrangements for implementing response measures at the institutional, organizational, local, national, and international levels during nuclear and radiological disasters will be considered in this Plan. Initial preparatory works for the project have been fulfilled since the beginning of 2012. In addition, experts of the Ministry developed a “twinning" project with foreign experts in order to learn the best practices from the EU in the field of radiation safety, as well as to improve radiation safety culture, legal bases, infrastructure, and other supporting services in the Republic of Azerbaijan in accordance with international rules. The project will last two years and will be completed by the end of 2013. Employees of the Ministry take part in training, seminars, and other events within many projects carried out by the IAEA in the field of nuclear and radiological disaster management. We attach great importance to the experience of the IAEA and also other leading countries in this field to increase capacity building, as well as acquire technologies used for providing radiation safety in the nuclear and radiological activity field.

“We attach great importance to cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to increase the preparation level for radiological accidents."