Through its Humanitarian Assistance Program (HAP), U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) donated 58 portable equipment to Uruguay's National Emergency System (SINAE, per its Spanish acronym) to extinguish forest fires. With a $15,000 value, the donation will help strengthen the Uruguayan Army's response capacities during natural disasters.
“This support complements existing tools to better fulfill our missions,” Uruguayan Army Colonel Roberto J. Cobas, deputy director of operations for SINAE, told Diálogo. “Having more modern and lighter equipment facilitates the soldiers’ difficult and stressful job .”
The backpack fire pumps—with an 18-liter water capacity—are easy to use, reload, and store. They were assigned to the Emergency Assistance Sections (SAE, per its Spanish acronym) of the Uruguayan Army's Basic Units, which collaborate with the National Office of Firefighters to fight fires. The country has 30 emergency sections throughout its territory.
“The portable fire extinguishing equipment the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay gave to SINAE on September 26th will be used in the next fire season, which begins in December 2017,” Col. Cobas said. The equipment is located in the Storage Warehouse of the National Emergency Office installed in February 2013 with the support of SOUTHCOM.
To improve the preparation and response capacities for possible forest fires, personnel from the SAE teams were trained to use their new backpack fire pumps November 14th–16th, 2017, at the Army Park Service in Santa Teresa, department of Rocha. “The Emergency Assistance Sections meet the country's needs during large-scale disasters,” Col. Cobas said.
“When time comes to extinguish fires, the results are very positive. Receiving more equipment makes us more effective in fighting fires,” Col. Cobas said. On its website, SINAE indicates that negligence and bad practices cause forest fires and wildfires to destroy thousands of hectares every summer—a situation exacerbated by frequent droughts resulting in severe ecological, economic, and social deterioration that usually persists for years.
In recent years, Uruguay reduced the number of forest fires and other wildfires by 75 percent. According to a SINAE press release, there were 5,010 interventions in the summer of 2011—the number decreased to 1,222 in 2016. The emergency system attributes the decline to prevention, mitigation, and response measures from multiple public and private organizations, as well as the public's commitment to responsible behaviors.
Problem solving bond
SINAE’s relationship with the U.S. Embassy's Office of Security Cooperation in Uruguay dates to 2009. “The relationship with U.S. Southern Command allows us to see their work in terms of disaster prevention and mitigation,” Col. Cobas said. “Their vast experience with these issues and their continuous adjustment to change serve as a reference for us when time comes to plan [our] operations.”
“We highlight our cooperation in defense, both during the annual technical exchange with the Connecticut National Guard and the outstanding support of SOUTHCOM, which has cooperated with necessary equipment to install the Emergency Department Coordination Centers,” Fernando Traversa, national director of SINAE, told Diálogo. “We also [obtained] various smaller donations that are very valuable for SINAE.”
SINAE develops cooperation processes for risk management with different countries (Costa Rica, the United States, Spain, Japan, Mexico, and Switzerland), with different United Nations agencies, and with various regional or global bodies, through the Uruguayan Agency for International Cooperation. “We value traditional, south-south, and triangular cooperation,” Traversa said.
“Uruguay understands cooperation as an opportunity to receive support, but also to share knowledge and bring solidarity in the form of assistance to neighboring countries when they are faced with emergency situations,” Traversa concluded. “Uruguay is learning to not only be a receiver of cooperation, but also a giver.”