In mid-March, the Peruvian Navy initiated the first of its 40 social assistance campaigns planned for 2018. The annual humanitarian program, carried out with Navy riverine vessels known as Itinerant Social Action Platforms (PIAS, in Spanish), began March 19th.
For the first humanitarian campaign, five PIAS set off for rivers of the Peruvian jungle and the shores of Lake Titicaca to serve more than 200 communities and more than 70,000 people. River hospital crafts BAP Morona, BAP Corrientes, and BAP Curaray joined the effort.
In 2018, the ships will provide medical assistance, health programs, nutrition, education, security, and environmental protection, as well as other services to more than 250,000 people in hard-to-reach rural communities in the Amazon jungle and Lake Titicaca. The goal is to promote development and inclusion in remote regions of Peru.
“This activity combines three fundamental pillars of the Navy’s work,” said Admiral Gonzalo Ríos Polastri, general commander of the Navy. “[That includes] protection and social inclusion, contributing to development, and security in the broadest sense of the word.”
PIAS cruise Lake Titicaca and rivers of the Amazon like floating hospitals and are equipped with gynecology clinics, labs, operating rooms, dental offices, imaging centers, and pharmacies. Each PIAS has a crew of 20 Navy troops—including doctors, health specialists, and service members—and 20 officials from various participating state organizations such as the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs, the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status, and Comprehensive Health Insurance.
The platforms provide preventive medicine courses and informational workshops on the prevention of drugs and domestic violence. The townspeople also benefit from government services and can participate in pension and education programs, as well as receive identity documents. “The civic actions of the Navy units were often the only government presence in riverine communities,” Adm. Ríos said.
Despite all services carried out in the PIAS, obstetrics remain among the most valued. April 12th marked the first birth of the year aboard one of the Navy ships. Doctors on the PIAS Río Napo, which traveled along a tributary of the Napo River, in the Amazon, treated surgically and cared for the mother, a member of an indigenous community. The newborn received a complete medical exam, immunizations, and other necessary services. In 2017, eight babies were born aboard the PIAS.
In addition to its medical and social support, the Navy carries out fundamental work for the development of the institution. Assistance campaigns aboard the PIAS also serve as training for participating service members.
“It allows us to work on fostering a national identity. Of course, it’s a given that the campaign enhances the institution’s image. It gives us a presence in remote zones,” Commander Christian Salas Ormeño, chief of the division of Contribution to Development and Disaster Risk Management of the Navy General Staff, told Diálogo. “It also allows us to have personnel and ships enlisted and trained, to watch our borders, monitor our rivers, and develop within a naval and institutional framework. It positions us and gives us more management capacity with the government.”
The Navy’s humanitarian experience in the Peruvian Amazon dates back to the 19th century, when the first ships arrived to support rural populations. During the 1970s, the Navy incorporated the first hospital-ship units specialized in medical and dental care.
“We realized that we were not changing the reality of these towns,” Cmdr. Salas said. “We then saw that we had to work out a proposal on another level that could really help.”
In 2012, the Peruvian Navy’s Amazon Region and Fifth Naval Zone General Operations Command, based in Iquitos, developed a strategic concept of sustainable social action to respond to the needs of rural populations—the itinerant platform was born. The first PIAS campaign took place in 2013 in the Napo River basin.
The PIAS Río Yavarí, in the process of being built, will join the five PIAS in service (Río Putumayo I, Río Putumayo II, Río Morona, Río Napo, and Lago Titicaca). The Navy announced the production of six additional PIAS to shore up the humanitarian assistance program.
“The idea is for 10 to always be in operation,” Cmdr. Salas said. “We expect to have two in reserve so that 10 are always in operation.”
Since 2013, the PIAS carried out 64 social action campaigns and brought assistance to more than 530,000 people. Including goals for 2018, the total number of campaigns will reach 104.
“Navy personnel participate in the program with singular pride in serving our Amazon and its inhabitants,” Adm. Ríos concluded. “[And,] because we continue to carry the organized presence of the government, the anticipated completion of the planned platforms will allow us to continue moving forward in the projected coverage of all our rivers.”