British Army officer helps Haiti relief effort

from Government of the United Kingdom
Published on 25 Jan 2010 View Original
Within 24 hours of the catastrophic earthquake hitting Haiti two weeks ago, Major Stephen Foreman, a British Army officer on loan to Canadian forces, was there, working as part of the humanitarian relief effort.

Major Foreman has deployed to Haiti as part of the Canadian Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

He is responsible for all logistic matters for the Canadian forces in response to contingency operations such as humanitarian operations and non-combatant evacuation operations.

He is constantly on 12 hours' notice to move to deploy anywhere around the world.

Referring to the call to deploy to Haiti, he said:

"At about 7pm on Tuesday 12 January I received an email asking me to come into work as a huge earthquake had hit Haiti.

"After a couple of hours I rang my wife and told her that I would be flying out the next morning.

"Within 24 hours of the disaster I was on the ground in Port-au-Prince with the JHQ [Joint HQ] recce [reconnaissance] team and an assessment team from the Government of Canada.

"My role is varied, representing the Canadian forces alongside the Government of Canada at daily meetings with the UN, Department for International Development, US Aid, as well as a plethora of non-governmental organisations [NGOs] co-ordinating humanitarian aid.

"I also prioritise the inflow of equipment coming into theatre and the logistic support to the deployed force, currently some 400-strong."

After a week in Haiti Major Foreman explained that they moved into the relief phase as the chances of finding anyone alive were now extremely low, although, he added, a couple of UN workers were pulled from the rubble alive on the fifth night after the earthquake. He continued:

"Initially it was definitely search and rescue, and medical treatment where we were treating patients with multiple fracture and crush injuries.

"I found three Canadians in a makeshift UN hospital that we just managed to get out on a C-17 medevac [medical evacuation] flight on my second day here - one of which had a crushed pelvis and was in danger of bleeding out if he didn't get back to Canada in time.

"We had to put them in the back of SUVs [sport utility vehicles] on camp cots, as there was nothing else, and drive them directly onto the runway.

"On a medical front now though we are seeing more secondary infections and the like.

"Although the field hospitals established by NGOs and government organisations are able to conduct surgery, there is almost no ability to hold or conduct ongoing treatment - leading to a lack of beds in these hospitals."

The next issue, he continued, is food and water. Speaking on 21 January, he said:

"Although some food and water is being distributed to the population in the capital, it is the population centres mostly cut off by the earthquake that are starting to suffer.

"As such, the Canadian DART is currently deploying down to Jacmel to provide mobile med teams to augment the medical effort already established there. We are also utilising the helicopter support to go out into the wider region to assist those unable to get help.

"We have also deployed a number of reverse osmosis water purification units that can make potable drinking water from any available source - including the ocean.

"We are also equipped with limited engineering capability that allows us to clear rubble and assist in the reconstruction effort - such as repairing the damaged road from Leogand to Jacmel which will cut transit time from Port-au-Prince from ten hours to three by road."

Major Foreman has deployed to Iraq twice as well as deployments to Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone, but, he said, this is without doubt the most complex and difficult situation he has had to deal with. He explained:

"Any infrastructure that was not instantly destroyed is structurally unsound for people to live in. Just this morning - a week later - there was an aftershock of 6.1.

"The amount of aid getting in is improving all of the time but due to the effects of the earthquake there are very few warehouses left to store anything in.

"The hospitals are overflowing and there are no mortuary services in the capital, Port-au-Prince. There were lots of bodies here when we first arrived. As such, our refrigerated ISO container, that is supposed to be used to house medical stores, is currently storing the remains of three victims of the earthquake.

"The Government of Canada is the lead on the operation, and the Canadian forces provide support where it is most needed.

"DART has the capability to set up a ten-bed hospital, and purify up to 40,000 litres of water per day, but it has limited engineering capabilities. On this operation we were also augmented by search and rescue teams and helicopter support.

"To date [20 January 2010] we have already treated somewhere in the vicinity of 500 patients, have rescued 18 Canadian students from British Columbia, and have evacuated nearly 2,000 Canadian nationals back to Canada.

"It is expected that we should be deployed for up to 60 days, or until the NGOs and the UN are in a better position to take over the relief effort completely."