ACCRA-- The Director for Social and Humanitarian Affairs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Florence Iheme, has reiterated the 15-nation grouping's mandate to strengthen humanitarian assistance in the sub-region.

In this perspective, ECOWAS is developing a regional civil-military co-ordination mechanism for a more effective response to situations requiring humanitarian aid and the directorate for Humanitarian and Social Affairs has developed policies and operational tools for humanitarian intervention.

These include the ECOWAS Humanitarian Policy and the Disaster Risk Reduction Policy, said Iheme when she addressed the launch of a two-week core course on Humanitarian Assistance in West Africa (HAWA) at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) here.

The course is jointly organized by the KAIPTC in collaboration with the Austrian Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution with the support of the Austrian Ministry of Defence and is funded by the Austrian Development Agency.

During the course, participants would be introduced to project management in the context of humanitarian emergencies, such as conflicts and natural disasters. Other interventions are the ECOWAS Emergency Response Team, the ECOWAS Humanitarian Mechanism, and the ECOWAS Humanitarian Depot, put together to enhance humanitarian effectiveness in the region.

Iheme said it was gratifying to note that an area of emphasis for the course was on the response co- ordination between civilians and the military during emergencies. She said ECOWAS placed a lot of emphasis not only on the co-ordination of different actors, but especially with military personnel.

She said the impediments to the attainment of the objectives of ECOWAS were poverty, disease and the high incidence of natural or human made disasters, which resulted in forced population displacement, statelessness, destruction to property and key socio-economic infrastructures, flood-induced epidemics, food insecurity and malnutrition.

She said: The sub-region is confronted with an increasing number of challenges, which constitute obstacles to integration and development."

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 233 million out of over 367 million people in the West Africa sub-region live in extreme poverty, and are mostly vulnerable to the effects of widespread food insecurity, recurrent natural disasters, climate change and socio-political instability.