Kenya has adopted several measures to mitigate the threats of biological weapons by terrorists and other criminals, both within and outside its borders.

Besides enhancing security at laboratories and vetting scientists, the country will on Tuesday, October 18 host 14 countries on a two-days conference in Mombasa to mitigate the threats in the region that may lead to the tragic loss of lives, catastrophes, widespread illnesses and food shortages.

The regional workshop by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in collaboration with Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) seeks to, among other things, boost preparedness and response to deliberate biological threats.

NACOSTI Director General Prof Walter Oyawa has warned that terrorists were moving away from use of mass biological weapons and are instead employing simple methods like pollution of consumable products.

“And this is why this workshop is important to our country; we want to enlighten Kenyans to be cautious about their environment and remain alert since biosafety and biosecurity are emerging challenges,” he said.

The commission undertakes regular inspections, monitoring and evaluation of research institutions to ensure compliance with set standards and guidelines.

“We make sure that all persons intending to undertake scientific research in Kenya obtain a license in accordance with laid down regulations,” said Prof Oyawa.

The participating states will gather feedback on needs and priorities that could be addressed through the project to enhance Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) implementation at the national and regional levels.

The BWC effectively prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling transfer or use of biological and toxin weapons.

Effective implementation of biological weapons convention

The states will also be briefed on the project Universalization and Effective Implementation of Biological Weapons Convention in Africa

NACOSTI has been designated to be the national focal point in Kenya to coordinate national implementation, submit Confidence building measures forms, communicate with other countries through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and persuade other countries to ratify the treaty.

According to NACOSTI’s Dr. Mary Onsarigo who is one of the participants, biological weapons are a major threat just as chemical and nuclear weapons.

Kenya ratified the BWC, a key element in the international community’s efforts to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

“The states undertook never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile, acquire or retain such weapons,” Dr. Onsarigo said.

BWC was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Member states of Convention

The Convention has reached almost universal membership with 184 state parties and four signatory states. In Africa, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, and South Sudan have however not signed the treaty.

A total of 14 countries in Eastern Africa including Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Somalia.

Biological weapons disseminate disease-causing organisms or toxins to harm or kill humans, animals or plants. Diseases caused by such weapons would not confine themselves to national borders and could spread rapidly around the world.

The states have undertaken to destroy biological weapons or divert them to peaceful purposes; not to transfer, or in any way assist, encourage or induce anyone to manufacture acquire biological weapons; consult bilaterally and multilaterally and cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the application of the BWC; request the UN Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC; and assist any State Party exposed to danger as a result of a violation of the BWC.

NACOSTI has also assured Kenyans that adequate measures had been taken to safeguards pathogens in various laboratories across the country.

“We have made sure that the laboratories where pathogens are stored are well secured; neither are the organisms used for the wrong purposes,” Dr Onsarigo said.

Pathogens have also been used as agents of biological warfare and the workshop seeks to review the progress in the implementation of the BWC and also create awareness of the pathogens and biological weapons of mass destruction in general.

“The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) is trying to prohibit production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of pathogens without valid justification. We want to encourage use of pathogens for peaceful science like the production of vaccines,” explained Onsarigo.

The participants will demonstrate their broad understanding of BWC, implementation of the Convention back in their respective countries, and legislations put in place as well as discuss roles and responsibilities of National Contact Points (NCPs) and confidence-building measures.