On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Working with the Engineering Troops of Different Countries

October 2012
Major Takahiro Watanabe
Engineering Officer, MINUSTAH 

1. Opening

I've been employed as Engineering Officer of MINUSTAH since April 2012, and I'm doing various things as a member of the UN . Dispatched by the Japanese government, I understand that, both internally and externally, I'm expected to contribute to the stabilization of Haiti by coordinating the many tasks carried out by the Japanese Engineering Unit.

I'm with the Operations Section of the U8 (Engineering Unit) in the Force Headquarters of MINUSTAH . In this section, five staff officers from Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Peru, and Korea are working under the supervision of the Ecuadorean chief; each of our staff officers are in charge of the Brazilian Unit, the Indonesian Unit, the Japanese Unit, the Chilean/Ecuadorean Unit and Paraguayan Unit, and the Korean Unit, respectively. A country that contributes an engineering unit also dispatches personnel to support the smooth operation of the engineering unit of the country. The Peruvian officer is the exception, and is currently taking care of the Chilean/Ecuadorean and Paraguayan Units.

On the other hand, when someone is out of the office or on leave, our colleagues spontaneously take care of his or her work in MINUSTAH . I worked with the Brazilian Unit, Chile/Ecuadorean Unit and Korean Unit for a couple of weeks as well as the Japanese Unit, and I was able to understand more deeply about the activities of other troops and realize that the activities of the Japanese Unit have been highly appreciated.

In my “On-Site Report” ,I would like to talk about why the Japanese Unit is highly appreciated.

My office of U8 Operations Section_From the left: Brazilian Major, Peruvian Lt. Colonel, Indonesian Major, the author, Ecuadorean Lt. Colonel (chief), and Korean Major(img)

My office of U8 Operations Section
From the left: Brazilian Major, Peruvian Lt. Colonel, Indonesian Major, the author, Ecuadorean Lt. Colonel (chief), and Korean Major

2. Trust in Japan

This is my first time working overseas. A number of things have surprised me, and one of them is that many people are friendly to me although we haven't met before.

For example, one day I visited a police station to discuss the project of building prefabricated houses. Some of the police officers came to me, saying “Japan?”, “A good country!” Moreover, when I was taking a rest in a nap room during the 24 hours a day operation to help with the hurricane, Bolivian military officers talked to me and offered some dinner, as all restaurants and shops were closed due to the approaching hurricane.We didn't know each other, but it didn't matter.

For example, one day I visited a police station to discuss the project of building prefabricated houses. Some of the police officers came to me, saying “Japan?”, “A good country!” Moreover, when I was taking a rest in a nap room during the 24 hours a day operation to help with the hurricane, Bolivian military officers talked to me and offered some dinner, as all restaurants and shops were closed due to the approaching hurricane.We didn't know each other, but it didn't matter.

These are just a few examples. Generally speaking, only because I'm Japanese, many Haitian people and foreign military people smile and talk to me in open, friendly ways. (They recognize me as Japanese from the patch of the Japanese flag on my camouflage uniform.)

This is thanks to a good image of Japan. I do feel that the trust that Japan has built up in the world is real.

Likewise, people trust and count on the Japanese Engineering Unit. The unit seems to be appreciated more and more, as it meets their expectations.

3. High Quality

Sometimes the officers of the Mission Project Cell in the civil sector ask me to request the Japanese Engineering Unit to undertake new projects, most of which are important ones.

One day, the President of Haiti requested the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to repair the marble sculpture twisted by the earthquake in the UN plaza in front of the Prime Minister's office. To respond to this request, the Japanese Unit was asked to look at the sculpture and to find a solution. Another example is that there was a project to repair the channel between the camps of different countries. While various units investigated the channel and showed their solutions, finally the Japanese Unit was chosen to take on the project, and it properly accomplished it.

To sum up, it is the high quality of the Japanese Unit which earns the most credibility of the Mission Project Cell. I feel that it becomes a rule in nature that the feasibility and solution of a project is finally judged by the result of inspection by the Japanese Unit. I could say that this is the “trust” built up by high quality of performances that the Japanese Unit has shown in the field.

[Before]

“Prefabricated Houses of the Cite Soleil Police Station” built by the Japanese SDF Engineering Unit on sloped cement ground. [Before]img

[After]

“Prefabricated Houses of the Cite Soleil Police Station” built by the Japanese SDF Engineering Unit on sloped cement ground. [After]img

“Prefabricated Houses of the Cite Soleil Police Station” built by the Japanese SDF Engineering Unit on sloped cement ground.

4. Answering the Expectations of Requesters

The works of the Japanese Unit seem to have been greatly appreciated. “Final inspection” and “Handing-over ceremony” are conducted by the Japanese Unit, when their tasks are completed. On these occasions, I see the requesters smiling and hear them saying “perfect.” Although I'm not working in the field sites, I can recognize that the works of the Japanese Unit are highly appreciated.

I think this is because the Japanese Unit examines the needs of requesters in detail and actively makes suggestions prior to the start of operations. Also, in the middle of operations, the Japanese Unit asks requesters to check if the operations are being conducted properly. After these steps, the Japanese Unit hands over completed buildings.

By the way, there was a case of theft between the period of completion and delivery of prefabricated houses, because the foreign unit in charge withdrew in this period, and these houses were not handed over. Moreover, concerning a project of land preparation taken by a foreign unit, additional tasks were repeatedly requested, because the coordination between the unit and requester was insufficient, and the actual design was different from the initial request.

The steps taken by the Japanese Unit are not merely to prevent these problems; the unit never forgets for whom they are working and tries its best to meet most requests. That is why requesters are thankful to the Japanese Unit.

Handing-over Ceremony of “Torbeck Elementary school” reconstructed by the Japanese SDF Engineering Unit as part of the Quick-impact projects(img)

Handing-over Ceremony of “Torbeck Elementary school” reconstructed by the Japanese SDF Engineering Unit as part of the Quick-impact projects

5. Closing

I have mentioned why I think the Japanese Unit has been highly appreciated. “So you mean other units are inferior to the Japanese Unit.” Some of you might think like this. However, this is not true; each of the six units is unique and distinct in different aspects.

For example, some units have easier decision-making functions to respond more quickly, and to take action more swiftly without considering the result too much. This is difficult for the Japanese Unit, which makes much of certainty of the tasks and safety of the personnel.

Two and half years have passed since the earthquake, and “quality” seems to be expected in many of recent projects. Because MINUSTAH basically works to support emergency recovery and stabilization, it is obvious that “speed” and “quantity” are needed more than “quality.” Therefore, a unit that can respond the next morning to the request in the previous evening to provide dump trucks, a unit that can send its trailers to a remote area, or a unit that can tentatively respond to requests despite their difficulty arising from geographical problems are also needed and appreciated.

Each unit excels in different aspects. It seems that the activities of MINUSTAH are built up by making use of their strong points.

What I do realize the most is that the Japanese Unit, working on behalf of Japan and its people on the opposite side of the earth, is certainly contributing to the stabilization of Haiti.

I'm scheduled to return to Japan when the Japanese Unit ends its major operations. I would like to spend the rest of my stay here, by asking myself how I can contribute further to the stabilization of Haiti.

Together with my colleagues in the office of U8 Operation Section_From the left: Filipino Marine Sergeant (general affairs), Brazilian Major, Peruvian Lt. Colonel, Ecuadorean Lt. Colonel (chief), the author, Korean Major, and Indonesian Major.(img)

Together with my colleagues in the office of U8 Operation Section
From the left: Filipino Marine Sergeant (general affairs), Brazilian Major, Peruvian Lt. Colonel, Ecuadorean Lt. Colonel (chief), the author, Korean Major, and Indonesian Major.

Cabinet Office, Government of Japan1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8914, Japan.
Tel: +81-3-5253-2111