Argentine Military Provides Humanitarian Assistance to Hurricana Victims in Haiti
By Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo October 20, 2016In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, the Argentine Blue Helmets are providing essential medical and other health-related assistance in the form of the Argentine Mobile Field Hospital to the country. The hospital is the only level 2 medical facility (hospital equipped to do surgeries) associated with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Although it is set up in Port-au-Prince and its primary mission is to provide medical care to the peacekeeping forces, the hospital also uses its collapsible modules to reach communities affected by disasters. The hospital is assembled from containers that serve as operating rooms, wards, laboratories, dental offices, as well as other medical functions. On the night of October 13th, a convoy of 4x4 vehicles and ambulances from the Argentine Armed Forces reached the city of Jérémie, in the country's southwest, the area most devastated by Hurricane Matthew, with the collapsible modules. “We sent 23 of the 67 people that man the portable hospital, including doctors, nurses, lab personnel and security staff,” 1st Lt. Pablo Martínez, director of logistics for the medical facility, told Diálogo via video conference from Port-au-Prince. Under normal conditions, it would take six hours to drive the roughly 300 km between Haiti’s capital and Jérémie. The military convoy took 48 hours because of the obstacles encountered along the way. “The last half of the route was completely destroyed. Bridges had collapsed and trees had fallen across the road, so it was very tough to get through,” said 1st Lt. Martínez. “Fortunately, we had the help of the Paraguayan Company of Engineers and the Brazilian security personnel. Together, we cleared the way so that the Mobile Field Hospital could reach the area it was sent to serve.” Argentina sends food and medicine According to a report published on October 10th by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Hurricane Matthew impacted around 1.3 million people in Haiti, displaced 99,400 families, and destroyed more than 66,000 homes. Poverty makes a bad situation worse in a country still recovering from the 7.3-magnitude earthquake that rocked it in 2010. “The hurricane destroyed everything in its path. The first thing that people asked us for was not medical care but food,” said 1st Lt. Martínez. In response to the emergency, Argentina filled a 30-cubic-meter container with water, medicine, and non-perishable food and shipped it to Haiti by boat. The South American country regularly sends supplies to Haiti, but this time it dispatched the extra shipment to meet the needs of the overextended Mobile Field Hospital in the capital and in the disaster area. International cooperation Hurricane Matthew sharply increased patient volume at the Mobile Field Hospital in Haiti. “We performed more than five surgeries in the last week alone, compared to 14 or 15 over the last five months,” said 1st Lt. Martínez, adding that the medical facility provides care to an average of 100 patients per week. “On a normal day, we may see five or ten patients. The number varies significantly. Some days, we have more than 20. And now we have even more because of the hurricane.” He also emphasized the importance of international cooperation to overcome challenges in a devastated country. “When you’re here, you recognize the bond that exists with the other nations working together in these situations,” he said. “We have the constant support of contingents that have become like our brothers, like the people from Paraguay, Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries in the region,” he added. “But it is not limited to the people who share our customs. The bond exists with people from countries like Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. All of them support us. The brotherhood among nations is palpable.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff coordinates the mission The Mobile Field Hospital is an element of the Argentine Air Force, the commander of which is Vice-Commodore Héctor Priotti. “But the contingent also has five Navy warrant officers and five Army warrant officers,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Marcelo Acuña, who was stationed in Haiti for two-and-a-half years. “When deployed on peacekeeping missions like this one, the three branches operate jointly.” Under Argentine regulations, once peacekeeping missions are deployed, the three forces fall under the command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces headed by Lieutenant General Bari del Valle Sosa. The Operational Command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also coordinates the Argentine Blue Helmets participating in the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.