Jamaica Gleaner / As one of the world’s poorest countries and Jamaica’s closest CARICOM neighbour, Haiti’s fortunes are intrinsically linked to our own here at home. For its part, Jamaica has consistently deployed soldiers to Haiti, whether on peacekeeping or humanitarian missions. Prior to 2016, our most recent deployment was in 2010, in the aftermath of that historic magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
Even six years on, since that fateful January 12 date, Haiti has still not recovered fully, and amid the ongoing socio-economic crises being faced, a Category 4 hurricane was most unwelcome. Hurricane Mathew landed in Haiti on Tuesday, October 4, and left most of the southern and southwestern regions of the country devastated. More than 900 persons were killed and a significant number displaced, with critical infrastructure severely damaged.
Having been narrowly spared itself, Jamaica was already in disaster response and recovery mode, and on Wednesday, October 19, a deployment of the Jamaica Defence Force’s (JDF) Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART) left the island for Haiti.
The team was comprised of service personnel from across the force, primarily from the JDF’s 1 Engineer Regiment, following the finalisation of a formal request from the Government of Haiti for regional assistance. The CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit, which is an operational arm of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, worked in conjunction with the JDF’s DART to execute a number of designated tasks in Haiti following a report of the Rapid Needs Assessment Team of CDEMA, which was deployed a week earlier. That report contained a damage assessment of the area as well as recommendations for the team to perform security, relief distribution, and reconstruction activities.
The DART team was based in Les Cayes, one of the most heavily affected areas in the southwest region of Haiti. Under the command of Major Carl Clarke and Lieutenant Roxwell Wedderburn, the team coordinated food and relief supplies distribution primarily in the initial stages of the operations, impacting more than 800 families. The latter stages of the operations saw the DART fully taking on the renovation of a primary school, completely replacing the damaged roof on the main building and kitchen, rebuilding the toilet facilities, repainting all buildings on the school compound, remaking and repainting classroom furniture, and finally a last-minute project that just had to be done; the making of a small ‘Food For The Poor’-size house for a family of five living adjacent to the school where they occupied a broken down zinc shack with no bedding and took turns to sleep at nights.
The DART faced a number of challenges in Haiti. The rehabilitation project itself had 14-day completion deadline, which conflicted with the projected redeployment date. A general lack of appropriate building materials also hampered the project, as the team had to improvise to ensure that the building met the Caribbean standard of accomplishing category-two standard. A collapsed and caved-in section of the compound also added to an increased scope of work, which, at all times, had to meet acceptable regional standards.
The team also ensured that they employed local labour during the project, as a means of ensuring that some amount of knowledge and skills were transferred to the local population’s builders. Eighteen persons, including carpenters, masons, welder and unskilled labourers, were the main beneficiaries, as the team took the time to demonstrate and teach modernised building techniques and standards.
Despite these and other challenges, the project was completed on the deadline and the team had the personal satisfaction of seeing the happy children return to school before they were redeployed to Jamaica.
After a full four-week deployment, the team returned on November 17, where they were greeted by Lt Colonel Martin Rickman. Commanding Officer of the JDF 1 Engineer Regiment. Col Rickman congratulated the men and noted how proud he was that JDF soldiers were once again able to assist our neighbours in distress.
– Major Basil Jarrett is the Civil/Military Cooperation Officer for the Jamaica Defence Force .
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