SOUTHCOM Hosts Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief Workshop

Partner nations discussed crisis response in Latin America and the Caribbean.
By Raymond Sarracino, U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs | 13 January 2019

Capacity Building

Chilean Navy Rear Admiral Luis Fernando Sánchez Pérez, director of Joint Operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (EMCO, in Spanish), and Chilean Navy Captain Rodrigo Graff, chief of EMCO’s International Relations Division, comprised the Chilean delegation that organized and planned the II Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response Workshop with U.S. Southern Command. (Photo: SOUTHCOM Public Affairs)

More than 70 delegates representing 17 nations met at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) headquarters December, 11-13, 2018, to focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief issues affecting Latin America and the Caribbean. The workshop, hosted by Chile at SOUTHCOM, focused on disaster response coordination through communication and coordination both internally and with regional and international partners.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America, Conference of the Armed Forces of Central America, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies were among the organizations and agencies that participated in the three-day workshop. Participants explored means of leveraging the military capabilities within the region and creating ways for civil and military authorities to share information on which nation’s capabilities are available to assist.

“We’re here to mitigate the disaster risk in the region,” said Retired Chilean Army General Rodolfo Gonzalez Palaneck, who was one of the principal leaders of the workshop. “It’s imperative that we understand the resources available in the region and utilize coordination between civil and military assets to ensure that the right resources are available when and where they’re needed.”

No country is exempt from disaster


Every aspect of life in the region can be affected by natural disasters, even if a nation is not hit directly. According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), since 1980, more than 293,000 people have lost their lives as a direct result of natural disasters.

And the estimated cost to their economies in inflation-adjusted dollars is 282 billion. IDB’s web site also shows that the countries in the region most affected by number of disasters during the past 25 years are: Mexico - 480, Brazil - 332, Colombia - 288, Peru – 279, Argentina - 234, Chile -196, Guatemala -195, Ecuador - 150, Honduras - 127 and Nicaragua - 125.

Among the worst disasters to affect the region in the last decade was the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010. It resulted in the deaths of 316,000 people and estimated damages of between seven and 14 billion dollars.

SOUTHCOM is taking action with its partners in the region to ameliorate suffering before disaster strikes. This effort includes building 38 emergency operations centers in throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean, which are designed to standards unique to each location. 

“It’s important to know that these warehouses are a sound investment – not just in the infrastructure of our partners, but in their ability to respond to emergencies quickly, and on their own,” explained William Clark, director of SOUTHCOM’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief section. “The ability to respond and coordinate rescue operations on the scene can make a huge difference in preventing loss of life and property damage.”

“These events provide a valuable opportunity for our civil and military colleagues throughout the region to put a face to a name,” he added. “[It] enables them to reach for the right type of assistance for their unique situation to the right partner.”

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