A four-day national oil spill contingency plan simulation exercise commenced Tuesday at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi. The simulation forum is targeting to enhance national and local resilience to the impact of hazards, particularly on oil.
It is organised by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) in collaboration with the Global Initiative- for West and Central Africa and the International Petroleum Industry Environment Conservation Association.
The exercise followed the endorsement of the Gambia Multi-Hazard National Contingency Plan in 2011, which is a document that seeks to reduce the sufferings of communities affected by disaster by addressing their immediate and life-saving needs.
The document is also designed to facilitate coordinated and harmonised responses to national disasters through the NDMA in collaboration with other partners, as well as serve as an effective tool to guide the mobilisation and use of available resources for effective disaster risk reduction.
In her opening remarks, Teneg Mba Jaiteh, the minister of Petroleum told the participants that after the validation and endorsement of the Multi-Hazard Plan in 2011, it remains effective until March 2013 when it will be reviewed and updated to be in tune with prevailing international standards.
Concerning oil spills, Minister Jaiteh stated that the plan recognised that there is a major environmental threat from the production and transportation of oil and other hazardous substances both at sea and on land. "The treatment and disposal of sludge from heavy fuel oil by users could also prove hazardous to the environment if not handled according to properly laid down procedures," she pointed out.
Jaiteh stated the need for the transportation of petroleum to and from depots, factories and retail outlets to also be properly monitored to comply with national standards and procedures, which she said are currently being developed by her Ministry.
She added that the identification of a possible oil spill response plan is relevant within the context of the oil exploration programme of The Gambia even though special contingency planning and response mechanisms are being developed for the activity by her Ministry and the petroleum exploration companies.
The Petroleum minister further told the gathering that although the plan lays emphasis on the prevention of oil spills, it also addresses mitigating measures aimed at minimising the possible impact on the environment and people's health. "The government of The Gambia is cognizant of the need to shift away from crisis management to risk reduction and management," she further said.
She also remarked that in as much as there is preparation for potential oil spills emergencies at national level, there must be recognition that oil spills particularly in the marine environment can have cross-border implications.
The executive director of the NDMA, Essa Khan described the oil spill contingency plan as an important instrument that will help address disaster and its related issues, adding that it is an integrated contingency plan that looks at not only disaster but also its related issues.
He explained that floods, disaster outbreaks, population movement and oil spills are some of the major aspects captured by the plan. Khan also told the participants that all the hazards that are encapsulated in the contingency plan would be thoroughly discussed during the seminar.
John Ostergaard, the consultant from the International Petroleum Industry Environment Conservation Association noted that the plan covers national response on disaster with a relatively complex process, which needs to be under constant scrutiny. He said the national legislation should provide the legal background for the implementation of a number of international conventions related to oil spill preparedness, response and co-operation.
Ostergaard further noted that The Gambia is a party to the Convention for Co-operation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central Africa and its protocol concerning cooperation in combating pollution in the cases of emergency.