UN forum crafts guide to boost crisis response


Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) Director General James Keter (centre) with delegates at the ongoing forum on CBRN risk mitigation in Nairobi yesterday. [Kennedy Mureithi, Standard]

A forum aimed at addressing Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) risks in Eastern Africa started in Nairobi yesterday, with calls for better management of emergencies.

Participants drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and the US, called for more efforts to forestall threats and to use previous experiences to improve preparedness and to minimise harm to the public and environment.  

The three-day forum is expected to revisit recent security breaches in Africa and gaps countries may have faced in the past or continue to grapple with that allow CBRN risks to thrive or frustrate their management.

The UN-led meeting attended by government representatives, academia, regulators, researchers and disaster management teams, came as the global community continues to face threats associated with CBRN weapons being used for criminal purposes.

“To safeguard the well-being of our communities, let’s remember the war on CBRN risks is a shared responsibility—one that transcends borders, ideologies, and affiliations,” Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) Director General James Keter told the forum.

Mr Keter said that in Eastern and Central Africa, there had been concerted efforts to strengthen collaborations and interventions, including through the European Union-funded CBRN Centers of Excellence dedicated to enhancing the region’s response capabilities against risks.

“We must now work together to bolster measures for the safe transport and management of chemicals, strengthening legislative frameworks against illicit trafficking of radiological and nuclear materials, and ensuring food safety and security,” added Keter.

The meeting, organized by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (Unicri), is a follow-up to initial talks held in Manila, the Philippines in 2023, at which countries met to develop a toolkit on CBRN planning and response for policymakers and managers.

Unicri Programme Officer Alice Rena said the forum was part of efforts to develop a toolkit that will harmonise approaches and responses at national and regional levels. She called for the sharing of best practices and fostering collaborations among stakeholders.

“We will engage with experts in response challenges and also explore the topic of international assistance even from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the African Centre for Disaster Management,” said Ms Rena.

Keter further called on the forum to support efforts to combat false information and conspiracy theories, while ensuring top-notch training for law enforcement and state security. “CBRN disinformation can jeopardize public health response in case of emergency,” he said.

Mr Clinton Biggs, an international engagement coordinator at the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the US Department of State, said the development of proper international norms for the response was at the centre of the ongoing efforts to bring countries together in the search for solutions against dynamic threats.

“The efforts started 18 months ago in collaboration with Unicri to identify common challenges with a view to improved CBRN response,” he said.

Debate continues to rage globally over the effectiveness of the various international legal instruments against CBRN terrorism, and whether or not it is time to review them given the unpredictable nature of criminal activities around CBRN.