The Government has decided to offer the United Nations a field hospital for the UN operation in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR), MINURCAT II, for up to a year from spring 2009. On 15 March the UN will take over from the current EU operation in the same area.
“A Norwegian field hospital for the operation in Chad fulfils a critical need which is of great importance to the UN. A number of other western countries have made the presence of a modern field hospital a condition for their own contribution of forces to the operation. Italy is at present providing a field hospital for the ongoing EU operation but this arrangement is due to end by May and there are few other alternatives,” says Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
The main purpose of the UN operation will be to contribute to the safety and security of refugees, internally displaced families and others in need in the local population, as well as of the humanitarian aid workers themselves. The UN Secretary General describes the humanitarian situation in the region as acute. The number in need of help is approaching 1.2 million. Of these 290,000 are refugees from Darfur in Sudan and 180,000 are internally displaced families and individuals from elsewhere in Chad. In addition to providing substantial humanitarian support for Darfur in 2008, Norway has also contributed NOK 28 million towards the alleviation of humanitarian suffering in Chad.
Serious humanitarian crisis
The situation in eastern Chad and the northeast region of the CAR is closely linked to developments in Darfur which continues to suffer one of the world’s gravest humanitarian crises. Refugees and insurgent groups constantly cross the border between the countries and the difficult situation in Darfur therefore has serious consequences for stability in the neighbouring countries.
However, lawlessness, violence and the activities of local bandits continue to pose the greatest threat to the local population and to the work of the aid organisations in the field. An important part of the UN mission’s mandate is therefore to strengthen the Chadian police, the prison authorities and the law enforcement system. Norway has contributed in this area through the provision of funding for the UN’s training programme for the Chadian police.
Norway wishes to increase its participation in Africa
“Participation in MINURCAT II is an important indication of the Government’s ambition to step up its contribution to UN led peace operations, with particular emphasis on Africa. Norway’s view is that western countries have, to too great an extent, left it to third world countries to provide forces for the UN’s most demanding operations which very frequently relate to countries in Africa. Since our long planned contribution to the UN operation in Darfur was frustrated by the opposition of the Sudanese president last year, it is particularly gratifying that we can make a contribution in neighbouring Chad where the UN has a particular need for a high quality field hospital,” says Defence Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
The EU is currently engaged in leading a military force with a UN mandate in eastern Chad and the northeast region of the CAR. This force was established in order to support the UN’s civil operation in the area, MINURCAT. When the mandate of the EU force expires on 15 March 2009, the UN will take over the lead role and the force will become part of MINURCAT. It is at this time that the Norwegian field hospital is planned to become operational.
The Norwegian field hospital will consist of up to 150 personnel, of whom 90 will work in the hospital and up to 60 will be engaged in support functions. It is proposed that the additional funding associated with this contribution will be covered by a supplementary budget allocation. The capability that this represents is approximately in line with that provided on standby for the EU’s Nordic Battlegroup which stood down at the end of its six months standby period on 1 July 2008. In other words, it is a well trained and fully exercised rapid response capability that we are talking about.
Critically important capability
“I am very pleased that Norway, and the Norwegian Armed Forces, are able to provide a critically important capability for a vital UN operation in Africa. The link with the conflict in Darfur is obvious. By participating in the UN operation in Chad, Norway will be able to contribute towards the strengthening of the UN’s activities in the region as a whole. We have to remember that the widespread conflicts in Africa, primarily in Congo and in Sudan/Chad, have cost more human lives than all the other conflicts in our time,” says the Defence Minister in conclusion.
Norway does not have the capacity to contribute to the UN operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo this time round, but the Government will, in the immediate future, be engaging in dialogue with the UN in order to identify a possible future contribution to the UN force in Congo as well.