In late June 2018, the U.S. government, through U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), donated a humanitarian aid warehouse to Honduras to store emergency supplies. SOUTHCOM’s Humanitarian Assistance Program presented the warehouse to the Permanent Contingency Commission of Honduras (COPECO, in Spanish), as part of a $1.1 million donation, June 22nd.
The warehouse helps consolidate Honduras’s self-sufficiency in case of natural or man-made disasters. The donation also strengthens the Central American nation’s capacity for risk management.
“This structure is crucial for COPECO, because it strengthens our response and preparation capabilities in emergencies, as it enables us to store more supplies to assist the population,” said Lisandro Rosales, national commissioned minister of COPECO. “I have no words to describe how beneficial this is for the country.”
The South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, assigned to SOUTHCOM’s area of operations in Latin America, was behind the design, awarding, and building of the warehouse. Standing 40 feet tall and about 119 feet wide, the depot was built in COPECO’s Tegucigalpa facilities.
The project took about eight months to complete. With this brand-new warehouse, COPECO’s Tegucigalpa facilities now have two spaces to store basic supplies.
“Now COPECO has about 35,000 meters of storage at a national level,” Rosales said. “In other words, it means we have the capability to keep ourselves stocked and be able to help immediately when required.”
Each warehouse has the capacity to store basic supplies for about 500 families in the first 24 hours after an emergency, said Oscar Mencía, director of COPECO’s Preparation and Response division. The warehouses enable COPECO to provide support to people during the wet and dry seasons.
“During the dry season [of 2014-2015], COPECO distributed 300,000 food sacks so that families affected by the drought could hold up for 15 days,” Mencía told Diálogo. “This was carried out with the WFP [World Food Programme], and supplies were distributed in the dry corridor departments [the northeast of the country].”
The warehouses can also help neighboring countries when necessary. COPECO stored about 30,000 pounds of food, 2,000 hygiene kits, bottled water, and other supplies that were sent to Guatemala after the Fuego Volcano eruption of June 3rd.
“This help is very important, as it strengthens not only COPECO, but also Honduras and COPECO’s operational part, the UHR [the Honduran Armed Forces Humanitarian Rescue Unit, in Spanish],” said Colonel Mario Alberto Matute Pacheco, commander of UHR-Honduras. “These warehouses make our work easier; we count on them to solve people’s needs.”
COPECO requested help from the U.S. government to build the latest warehouse in 2014. So far, a total of five warehouses were built with U.S. support: two in the Francisco Morazán department and one each in Puerto Lempira, Gracias a Dios department; Danlí, El Paraíso department; and La Ceiba, Atlántida department.
“The warehouses were requested [in these towns] because of the vulnerability and high population of the areas,” Mencía said. “For example, the warehouse in La Ceiba supplies four departments [Atlántida, Islas de la Bahía, Colón, and Gracias a Dios] that are more vulnerable to events such as floods or tropical storms.”
According to its Global Climate Risk Index 2018, the German non-profit organization Germanwatch categorizes Honduras as one of the countries most affected by natural disasters in the last two decades. From 1997 to 2016, Honduras had 62 extreme climate events, with a death toll of more than 300,000 people and an economic loss of more than $500 million, the report said.
COPECO’s National Plan for Integrated Risk Management 2014-2019 emphasizes the devastating effects of natural disasters—hurricanes, floods, droughts, and mudslides, among others—that impact the economy and curb development. According to the report, 27 percent of the country’s municipalities are vulnerable to disasters whose occurrences continue to increase each year.
“Our country constantly needs donations like that of SOUTHCOM due to its vulnerability to natural or man-made disasters,” Col. Matute said. “This kind of donation increases the unit’s response to threats.”
Thanks to SOUTHCOM’s warehouses, COPECO’s response capability will continue to increase, as two additional depots will be built in 2019, in the Valle and Lempira departments. In addition to the warehouses, the U.S. government designated about $15,000 for low-cost projects such as hygiene kits to be kept at warehouses.
“We want to continue growing, so we can respond to the population,” Mencía said. “We will always need the support of SOUTHCOM for the departments that are in need.”