East African Community countries are building their capacity and preparedness to respond to chemical attacks and disasters.

With support from the United Kingdom, the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is now training core personnel in the bloc to first build awareness and understanding of the problem within the region, following which member states will draw national protection programmes (NPP) based on their risk assessment.

The three-day Regional Capacity Building Workshop has attracted participants from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is taking place at the Imperial Golf View Hotel – Entebbe.

Lawrence Egulu, the Commissioner of Employment Services and Acting Director for Occupational Safety and Health said the intervention is timely because it is coming at a time when the region is on an industrialization drive, that will see massive chemical use in its development efforts.

He added that the region is also not overlooking the threats of terrorist attacks and global situations in which several developed countries dump hazardous waste in the poor south. Chemicals, he said, were essential in economic and social development but posed substantial risks if not well handled.  Risks, he said ranged from ignorance about the substances to accidents and terror attacks.

Egulu cited the Bhopal gas leak disaster in India in 1984 and the Beirut explosion in 2020, both of which led to massive loss of life and destruction of property.  Locally there have several incidents involving industrial infernos.  The commissioner criticized the negligent handling and transportation of petroleum products in Uganda which defy all security and safety rules.

Egulu challenged member states to also task their standards agency to scrutinise industrial-produced foods and beverages because these were also a big potential risk to ignorant consumers. He hoped the deliberations from the conference would inform a collective understanding of the risks and bolster the individual member states’ preparedness and response mechanisms.

Uganda joined the Geneva-based OPCW on January 13, 1993, signing the Chemical Weapons Convention and ratifying the same in 2002.  The country also enacted the Toxic Chemicals Prohibition and Control Act in 2016 to domesticate the convention.    The National Secretariat on Chemical Safety and Security is housed at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development with representation from other concerned government agencies and ministries.

Toko Okazaki, working with the OPCW – Assistance and Protection Branch said the organization would, dealing with regional blocks continue helping member states develop their programmes and guidelines to address chemical weapons risks.

Neville Clayton who represented the United Kingdom Government addressed the meeting via video conferencing, promising his country would continue supporting Africa to build its capacity to handle chemical risks.

Barry Moss, a former military serviceman in the UK  and an expert at the OPCW observed that 193 countries were signatories to the CWC but only 65 had ratified it.  Ratification means a state is ready to begin the process of enforcing an international legal instrument.

Barry observed that few states had a national protection programme (NPP), which could only be possible after a country made its risk assessment.  Uganda has been prone to terror attacks with several rebellions and insurgency but fortunately, chemical weapons have not been used.

Such weapons have indiscriminate effects and lead to colossal loss of life if used at a large scale, the reason they are prohibited under the United Nations and other international legal instruments.

There have been condemnations of some of the parties to the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Palestine accused of using the said weapons. 


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