On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Current Situation in Haiti

January 2012
Captain Tadao Sekiguchi
Staff Officer (Logistics), Force Headquarters, MINUSTAH 

1. The Environment of Haiti

Do you know where Haiti is? Many of you may not be familiar with this country and can't answer this question. Haiti is in the island in the Caribbean Sea between the North and South American continents, and neighbors the Dominican Republic. There is little seasonal change; it is hot all through the year. (So far the highest temperature in this January is 35°C.)

There are two rainy seasons in a year. One is from April to June, and the other from August to November; these seasons are also known as the hurricane season. Haiti is 14 hours behind Japan. French and Creole are its official languages, and people speaking English and/or Spanish could be college graduates or self-educated persons.

The quality of tap water is not so good. Although we use it for dish washing, we usually buy bottled water for cooking and drinking. The electricity is occasionally cut off, and so even demonstrations complaining power shortages take place. Streets filled with rubbish would result from little awareness of sanitary conditions. Rivers that the earthquake caused to dry have turned to be dump sites. In the rainy season, rubbish is swept down from the upper stream, and as a result, the sanitary conditions in the downstream area are deteriorated.

A market in front of a camp for displaced people(img)

A market in front of a camp for displaced people

A street market(img)

A street market

Currently, the situation in Haiti is generally stable. However, this country has 802 camps for about 580,000 displaced persons, and in these camps gang groups make an increasing number of crimes. Especially during the year-end and new year holidays when there are many festivities much money is required for, many kids are kidnapped all over the country.

A river has been turned into a dump site. It's grotesque and smelly.(img)

A river has been turned into a dump site. It's grotesque and smelly.

This street market sells vegetables, fruits, snacks, and clothes. Surprisingly, raw eggs and fresh meats are also sold here.(img)

This street market sells vegetables, fruits, snacks, and clothes.
Surprisingly, raw eggs and fresh meats are also sold here.

Main transportation is cars, trucks, and motorbikes. Trains are not running. Domestic flights are operating, but there are no fixed flight schedules. As for traffic conditions, heavy traffic, reckless driving, overtaking, overloading and random street parking are common because driving manners are bad, and very few traffic lights are installed and functioning. It may be said without much exaggeration that there are no traffic rules.

Trucks are an important means of transportation.(img)

Trucks are an important means of transportation.

A line of cars suddenly increases because no traffic lines are marked.(img)

A line of cars suddenly increases because no traffic lines are marked.

2. The Task of Logistics Staff Officers

Since September 2011, I have been assigned as a logistics officer in the Force Headquarters of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti ( MINUSTAH ) located at the Delta Camp in Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince. There are seven members in our section, and their nationalities are Chile, Brazil, the UN , Jordan, the Philippines, Haiti, and Japan. Because of these national and cultural differences, each of us has a different working style. Our Logistics Section mainly takes the responsibility of a periodic survey of existing condition of contingent-owned equipment and UN -owned equipment, maintenance of ammunition and UN vehicles, mission support for the troops (especially for the transportation), procurement of supplies, and establishment and improvement of the life environment. In October 2010, there was an outbreak of cholera, and since then we have taken all possible measures to make a timely check on the life environment, including sewage facilities and garbage disposal conditions, and improve it. In addition, I also act as a liaison officer between MINUSTAH and the Japanese contingent, and forward information related to MINUSTAH to Japan.

Work with my colleagues from other countries sometimes does not go smoothly, though I am not sure if it depends on their custom or national traits. For example, when Japanese people carry out a project, it would be natural to have a meeting among parties concerned before starting it, make a step-by-step timetable to monitor progress, and prepare for handling unexpected contingencies. On the other hand, there are neither project plans nor timetables in our section. I think it is widely believed that things work out even if a problem occurs. I'm doing my job with my own schedule, and I feel anxious every day.

At the office(img)

At the office

Another example is in the maintenance of UN vehicles. When a vehicle breaks down, I ask a body shop for repair. In Japan, the staff of a body shop would tell his customer which part of the vehicle is wrong or how many days it will take to fix it. Here, such things never happen. The staff persistently tells us nothing but that they will call us after the repairs are done. We would be lucky if he could give an answer to our questions. We can't fully rely on the repairs by such a body shop; users are required to make a final check. (Actually, oil and coolant (a liquid used for cooling an engine) was not filled though we had the vehicle serviced.) I wish they, supposing they were in customers' place and considering possible obstacles to the business of the customers, would work with a sense of responsibility.

By the way, people of other countries have an impression that Japanese are very diligent and work calmly and properly. I heard they had been surprised that the Joban Expressway in Japan had been incredibly reopened in six days after the Great East Japan Earthquake. As I often hear the phrase "Made in Japan," people have high expectations for not only Japanese products but also Japanese people.

National flags of contributing countries in front of the Force Headquarters compound(img)

National flags of contributing countries in front of the Force Headquarters compound

The UN and Haitian flags near the camp gate(img)

The UN and Haitian flags near the camp gate

3. Closing

A new year has come, and my term of office has hit the halfway point. I have been under slight stress due to cultural gap and differences in national traits. However, Haiti is gradually recovering. I hope that the government of Haiti makes more efforts toward recovery. At the same time, I would like to do my best during the remainder of my term of office.

A group photo during a logistics survey(img)

A group photo during a logistics survey

A Scene of contingent-owned equipment survey(img)

A Scene of contingent-owned equipment survey