ABU DHABI // The UAE has taken a lead role in urban search-and-rescue planning, building on its participation in earthquake relief efforts in the region and beyond. The UN's International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, comprising 80 member nations, elected the UAE vice chair last month, succeeding Hungary, which now heads the group. Next year, the UAE will take the chair. Member nations fall into two categories: those prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and those that provide assistance. Those in the first category are trained in measures to minimise damage caused by disasters. For example, earthquake-prone countries can construct buildings to be more resilient.
The UAE is not prone to natural disasters and therefore is in the second group. Member countries are organised into one of three regional groups; the UAE is part of the Africa, Middle East and Europe region. The UN group was formed in 1991. The UAE joined in 2007. "The UAE became involved later than most countries, but it has been catching up very fast," said Arjun Katoch, the secretary of the UN group.
Major Mohammed al Ansari, head of the ambulance department at Abu Dhabi Police and liaison officer between the Ministry of Interior and the UN, said the country had helped Afghanistan and Pakistan after earthquakes, and Indonesia twice. "The fact we have been elected vice chair is very important for us," Major al Ansari said. "It shows the UN trusts us as a key player in the region. It has also been good in helping us grow up the right way."
Major al Ansari was in Pakistan after the Oct 2005 earthquake with a team that worked with Chinese crews to find people trapped in rubble and to repair damage to buildings. "By starting to build these teams we can be helpful to other countries in the region by minimising the losers in a natural disaster situation," he said. The UAE works with the International Red Cross in rescue operations, he said. In Pakistan, for example, the search-and-rescue teams used sniffer dogs to find people and provided water and temporary shelters, while the Red Cross set up a mobile hospital and gave three meals a day to survivors.
"We also work closely with other organisations to rebuild some of the damage," Major al Ansari said. "In Indonesia, we rebuilt the people's boats so that they could go back to normal life as soon as possible." Abu Dhabi Police will soon publish a book summarising their methods for dealing with natural disasters, he added. firstname.lastname@example.org