Honduras Trains Humanitarian Aid Specialists

Honduras Trains Humanitarian Aid Specialists

By Iris Amador/Diálogo
October 19, 2017

At least twice a year, the Honduran Armed Forces Regional Humanitarian Aid Training Center (CARAH, per its Spanish acronym) invites military and civilian rescuers from Central America and the Caribbean to participate in training to improve their response capacity to assist the population in the event of a disaster. Thirty-two new specialists from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua have graduated from the latest course, which ended in mid-August. Member nations from the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, per its Spanish acronym) have signed agreements to support each other professionally while at the same time strengthening their bonds of friendship. Since January, Honduras has been in charge of CFAC as its pro tempore secretary general for a two-year term, but each member nation is responsible for offering various educational units. That way, each nation provides an educational opportunity to the other nations. Honduras is focusing on humanitarian aid, the Dominican Republic on human rights, Guatemala on peacekeeping, El Salvador on transnational crime, and Nicaragua on demining. “CARAH is CFAC’s newest center,” Honduran Army Colonel José Luis Mendieta, the director of the center and commander of the Honduran Armed Forces Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR, per its Spanish acronym), explained to Diálogo. “The training is ongoing and the service members are ready to join forces to provide aid in an emergency.” The center was established in 2014, and in three years it has trained close to 250 people on search-and-rescue techniques for victims of all types of natural disasters, as well as on human-caused contingencies, such as fires or terrorist attacks. “When these officers return to their countries, they act as force multipliers because they pass on what they have learned to their colleagues in their respective humanitarian aid and search units,” Col. Mendieta stated. Integrated courses Even though most of the participants are officers in the armed forces of the region, the training center sets aside eight of the 32 vacancies in each course for members of the Honduran Fire Department and Standing Committee on National Contingencies (COPECO, per its Spanish acronym), to work together with the nation’s first responders. That is the case with the Honduran rescue unit Katrachos USAR (Urban Search and Rescue), comprising members of COPECO, the Honduran Fire Department, and the Honduran Military Police. On September 19th, just hours after Mexico was shaken by an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, the Katrachos USAR mobilized for deployment to that country “to provide assistance to our Mexican brothers and sisters,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced. The center has divided the training into two courses that integrate humanitarian aid. Both include intensive theoretical and hands-on training and run for four weeks. “As the host nation, Honduras provides lodging and meals for our guests,” Col. Mendieta explained. In the first course, officers are trained in first aid, damage assessment, and the needs and methods of supplying materials — water, medicine, household items, and basic hygiene products — as well as on aquatic rescue exercises in open and stagnant waters. In the Comprehensive Humanitarian Aid 2 course, participants receive training on rescues in confined spaces as well as in collapsed structures — both lightly and seriously damaged — with simulations in structures that are specifically built so that the service members can destroy them and then enter and exit from them with all of their rescue equipment, while following all of the safety measures. The resistance trials are done in open water and in rapids at La Ceiba, on Honduras’s northern coast, to measure the rescuers’ capabilities in the Cangrejal River, which has Class III, IV, and V rapids where even international Olympic teams have trained. “It’s the river with the best water flow in all of Honduras for these purposes,” Col. Mendieta said. Saving lives Among the officers who took the course this year, Honduran Army First Lieutenant Juan Carlos Reyes Hernández, a member of UHR-Honduras since 2011, is one of the best. He won first place in the first training, which ended in May. “Each course is complex and they are all very beneficial. We’re not playing around – people’s lives depend on this. We train to save victims. For us, the essential part is to save their lives,” 1st Lt. Reyes told Diálogo. “All of the tests are as real as can be. They measure our knowledge, our resistance, and our accuracy in these procedures.” First Lt. Reyes was part of the contingent that rescued some miners in the Department of Choluteca, in southern Honduras, a few years ago, following a mine collapse. In 2016, during a heavy storm, he and his colleagues mobilized to protect an at-risk population in an area prone to mudslides. “It wouldn’t stop raining but we managed to get the residents out and stabilize the area with sandbags, placing canvas over the hill and making a new spillover for the rushing water,” he recalled. Teamwork CARAH is getting ready to teach its next course on standard procedures in October. The course is being offered to the service members of CFAC search-and-rescue units. “It will run for 45 days and will include incentive-based competitions,” Col. Mendieta explained. “Six soldiers from each country will come, and their response capabilities will be measured in competitions.” “We’re constantly updating ourselves,” 1st Lt. Reyes added. “We’re ready to operate in any natural disaster, in any environment, on land, at sea, and in rivers.” “Our five nations are just waiting for the order. A problem for one is a problem for all five of us,” Col. Mendieta concluded. “We’re all willing to serve each other, and each is willing to serve all.”
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