On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Current Situation in Haiti and Roles of the Military

March 2012
Major Hiroshi Nakao
Engineering Officer, MINUSTAH 

1. At the Beginning

It has been one year since the Great East Japan Earthquake. In Haiti, through TV and the internet, I recognized that Japan was steadily recovering. I feel happy to see such an image of Japan, because I engaged in disaster-relief operations for the Great East Japan Earthquake for four months, starting in March 2011. On the other hand, two years have already passed after the earthquake in Haiti. However, the recovery process in this country is much slower than in Japan. Why is that? What's happening there? I would like to write this "On-Site Report",while attempting to answer those questions.

2. The Current Situation in Haiti

The current situation in Haiti is precisely described in the On-Site Report by Major Sekiguchi. What I would like to mention here is that it smells bad everywhere, probably because large quantities of trash are visible all over the city. I guess that the poor trash collection system in this country is partly to blame. Because there are no dump sites, people would have no choice but to throw trash away on the street. Such trash is then scattered around by rain. In addition, the sanitary situation in the cities is also a big problem. When I visited a city for research on road repair, I was shocked to see children washing their bodies and dishes with factory effluent.

On another front, there was a case in which a river was flooded by trash and the Japanese engineering troop removed it. Some people complained about it: instead of expressing their gratitude, they wanted to know why the troops did not remove other garbage as well. Also, I was surprised to see people climbing up the dump trucks to steal reinforced concrete, while the troops were carrying away the collected debris.

Children washing their bodies and dishes with factory effluent(img)

Children washing their bodies and dishes with factory effluent

3. The Work of Engineering Officers

The main mission of the engineering officers is to coordinate with the engineering units regarding their works to make the task orders for them and to support these units. I'm working with the Japanese and Paraguayan units, and occasionally with the Korean unit. Two years have passed since the earthquake, and construction of asphalt roads and permanent buildings—which are not directly related to the damage of the earthquake—is now increasingly required from the engineering units, instead of emergency repairs. In my office, all of our operational team members in U8 (our engineering section) are striving to solve difficult problems like this.

The members of MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) come from different countries; it is hard to harmonize the way of working of MINUSTAH with that of the Japanese unit. The Japanese unit tends to request very detailed information to seek consensus from other units as appropriate before making their decision. Once a command is given, the Japanese unit responds quickly and is able to perform better than the other units. On the other hand, they sometimes find it difficult to cope with sudden changes or events. Work plans are occasionally changed or suspended, and we have had to deal with such situations.

Also, speed and quantity are required of the engineering work in Haiti. The ability of each member is very high; the Japanese unit sells the quality of their work, which is better than the other units. In this regard, I think that the Japanese unit would be appreciated more if they could work with more flexibility according to the needs in Haiti.

Members of the Paraguayan engineering unit(img)

Members of the Paraguayan engineering unit

Dinner party at the Paraguayan camp(img)

Dinner party at the Paraguayan camp

4. Troops of Other Participating Nations

The operational team in U8, to which I belong, consists of our Ecuadorean leader and other members from Peru, Indonesia, Brazil, Nepal, Korea, and the Philippines. We are all good friends; birthday and farewell parties are often held, and I enjoy working with them. I especially became a close friend with the Korean officer. His thought process is very similar to mine. While working, we used to have common complaints and problems but help each other a lot.

Also, the Korean unit is especially amazing. Their commander is very smart; their decision-making is also fast and they respond to the demand for information quickly. Because of the military draft, they have many young officers. The technical ability on the work site of the Japanese unit is often superior to that of the Korean unit. However, the work of the Korean unit is greatly appreciated, as their work fully matches with the needs in Haiti, emphasizing speed and quantity rather than quality. Whenever I visited the Korean Camp, I received a warm welcome. It was a very good experience for me to be able to contact with many Korean officers.

First overseas birthday party(img)

First overseas birthday party

My Ecuadorean supervisor and Korean colleague at the Korean canteen(img)

My Ecuadorean supervisor and Korean colleague at the Korean canteen

4. Troops of Other Participating Nations

I was surprised to find out that the number of NGO members working in Haiti was larger than I had expected. Most of them are female. Military troops are dispatched to Haiti because of the security problems and poor environment. However, the Japanese women are working cheerfully, adapting themselves to the local environment. I was impressed by that.

Civil and military cooperation get much of the limelight these days, but cooperation between the two is actually difficult, due to the strict criteria and screening by the UN and budget problems among Japanese NGO s. Apart from Japanese NGO s, we worked with NGO s of other countries, including Canada and the US, and I felt we were able to build good relations with them. Also, I was very happy when NGO s and military persons said to me, "the work of the Japanese unit is perfect! Thank you!"

With UNDP and NGO

With UNDP and NGO members

6. Positive Signs

Positive signs are gradually sprouting up in Haiti. Camps for displaced people located around the airport and in the city have been removed, and maintenance of beautiful parks has begun. Plenty of goods are displayed at the supermarkets. Sometimes I see the local people cleaning up the streets. These are small things, but I have realized that the country is definitely moving in the right direction.

Also, I feel comforted to see students walking to school with clean uniforms, although reckless driving and the piles of rubbish are still bothersome. I believe that Haiti will be different when these students have grown up. I pray for that.

7. Closing

Haiti still needs a lot of time and assistance for recovery, and I think now is the time to give more fundamental and permanent support rather than emergency treatment. For example, in dealing with the rubbish problem, support should be given on a bigger scale, such as establishing a waste management system by building incinerator plants or providing trash collection vehicles, as well as conducting ethical education. We shouldn't merely and temporally just remove trash from the river.

Only one month is left for me to work in Haiti. I would like to do my best here, so that cheerful students can see a better future.