On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Moving Toward Recovery in Haiti

August 2012
Captain Kiyoshi Okuma
Staff Officer (Logistics), MINUSTAH 

1. At the Beginning

Immediately after the big earthquake in January 2010, which killed more than 300,000 people, Japan dispatched the Self-Defense Forces to Haiti to support its recovery efforts. Because Japan is widely considered to have fully contributed to the efforts for more than two and a half years by now, it has been decided that Japan will end its engineering operations in the middle of October this year and then withdraw in stages.
It's been almost half a year since I was posted to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti ( MINUSTAH ) in March 2012 as Logistics Officer. While working there, I did recognize that Haiti was gradually recovering, and in my “On-Site Report”, I would like to talk about such positive aspects.

2. The Work of Logistics Officers

 MINUSTAH operations started in 2004. I could say that by now most logistics activities, including supply and delivery of goods, have already been established. However, we frequently face unexpected situations, such as delayed delivery due to road closures caused by demonstrations. Dealing with such situations occupies much of my work here. When I'm coordinating with troops of various countries, unpredicted things sometimes happen due to different languages and ways of thinking. However, nowadays I enjoy working even in such stressful situations.

Receiving a commemorative token from the Sri Lankan infantry battalion commander(img)

Receiving a commemorative token from the Sri Lankan infantry battalion commander

Also, since May 2012, cooperation between the police and military sectors of MINUSTAH has been promoted, including setting up checkpoints for counter paramilitary operations and disarmament. This has been a good experience for me, because it gave me opportunities to coordinate with organizations other than troops in terms of logistics.

Logistics survey team collaborated with the police sector.(img)

Logistics survey team collaborated with the police sector.

The term of Japanese staff officers is about half a year. One day I explained my replacement schedule to my colleagues, and they said to me “why don't you extend your term?” I was truly glad to hear that. Of course appreciation by troops makes me happy, but I felt happier to receive acceptance from my colleagues.

My colleagues gave me a birthday card.(img)

My colleagues gave me a birthday card.

3. The Situation in the Camps for Internally Displaced People

The number of internally displaced people was about 390,000 in July 2012, a decrease of about 75% from the more than 1.5 million people who were displaced in the immediate wake of the earthquake. However, many people still live in a harsh environment without restrooms and drainage systems. In their camps, crimes by gang groups have never stopped, so infantry units are patrolling these camps around the clock.

The Brazilian infantry battalion patrolling a camp(img)

The Brazilian infantry battalion patrolling a camp

Considering such a situation, an anti-gang unit was established by the Haitian Police. Many police officers take the test of physical strength conducted by the UN Police ( UNPOL ), expecting to work in this unit. I found these police officers were highly motivated to make these camps safer.

A scene of the physical test by UNPOL(img)

A scene of the physical test by UNPOL 

On the other hand, some of the internally displaced people now live in more comfortable environments, thanks to cooperation between MINUSTAH and NGO s. The faces of people in this area are full of smiles; compact but beautiful houses are built, the streets are well lit, and water and medical assistance are provided. Our assistance operations are implemented every day so that all of the people living in harsh environments could move to areas like this.

Orderly rows of houses(img)

Orderly rows of houses

Dental checkup by a Bolivian military dentist(img)

Dental checkup by a Bolivian military dentist

4. Educational Training for the Haitian Police

There are practically no traffic rules in Haiti, and reckless overtaking is very common. For example, a terrible accident is caused by speeding and reckless overtaking by a poorly maintained truck with disabled brakes. Also, when the flow of cars is paused, cars continuously stray onto the oncoming lane and create an additional lane. As this is repeated, one original traffic lane becomes five lanes, and this happens in both traffic lanes. One day, it took nearly three hours to get to a certain point by car, although it only takes 10 minutes normally.

Traffic jam caused by a demonstration against power shortages(img)

Traffic jam caused by a demonstration against power shortages

Therefore, together with the Haitian Police, UNPOL started to teach police officers how to catch drunken drivers and speeding cars. These days, police officers doing traffic control are often seen. I hope that good driving manners soon become widely shared for the safety of everyone.

Conducting a mock breath test(img)

Conducting a mock breath test

5. Vocational Training

Through its vocational training program known as the “Kizuna Project”, the Japanese unit is offering training to the Haitian people on how to use engineering devices. At the same time, the government of Haiti started its educational program on road repair. Also, computer education is being offered by some NGO s. MINUSTAH also offers computer lessons for local staff, most of whom are actually taking them.

Road repair training(img)

Road repair training

6. Closing

The recovery process in Haiti is much slower than that of Japan from the Great East Japan Earthquake; Haiti has many problems to be resolved over the long term, including employment and power shortages. On the other hand, a new Prime Minister has been elected and provincial elections—which have been postponed for more than a year—will be conducted at the end of this year. It seems that a functioning and democratic government is gradually being established, and that the Haitian people will be ready to make further efforts to solve these problems. I do hope that in the near future peace and stability will be achieved in Haiti, and that the operations of MINUSTAH will end. Only then can we say that MINUSTAH was a successful mission.

Together with smiling kids(img)

Together with smiling kids