U.S. Southern Command’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) missions and programs are central to efforts to enhance security and stability in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Humanitarian assistance focuses on the provision of health care, infrastructure improvements and aid to populations temporarily or chronically underserved. Disaster relief is the response to reduce human suffering associated with natural disasters that cause the disruption of normal transportation and commerce and destroy infrastructure.
Humanitarian assistance activities
The command manages a series of humanitarian assistance programs that support the development of civilian infrastructure necessary for economic and social reforms and improve the living conditions of impoverished regions.
The cornerstone of the foreign humanitarian assistance/disaster relief mission is SOUTHCOM’s humanitarian assistance program. The humanitarian assistance program complements, but does not duplicate or replace, the work of other U.S. government agencies that provide foreign assistance. SOUTHCOM humanitarian assistance projects are designed to be consistent with and supportive of both the U.S. Mission Strategic Resource Plan and the SOUTHCOM Theater Campaign Plan. The humanitarian assistance program sends a consistent and sustained message to partner nation civilian populations that their governments are capable of responding to crisis and that SOUTHCOM responds to humanitarian needs in the region and is interested in the well-being of those in need.
SOUTHCOM also executes a slate of annual humanitarian assistance exercises. During these exercises, U.S. military forces conduct deployment training while providing tangible benefits to host nations in the form of medical clinics, schools, well-drilling, and community centers.
Medical programs like the Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs) and Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) are conducted by U.S. military personnel throughout the region.
These training events enhance the medical readiness training of U.S. military forces as well as provide sustained health benefit to the population and attempt to improve the overall level of care provided by the host nation healthcare system. U.S. medical personnel benefit by providing medical care in a challenging and often unique environment; local medical professionals develop closer relationships with U.S. medical personnel; and the local population receives free, quality medical care.
Humanitarian assistance exercises such as the annual Beyond the Horizon (BTH) and New Horizons (NH) exercise series provide construction and medical assistance to communities throughout the region. These exercises generally take place in rural, underprivileged areas and last for several months. (Learn more about these exercises).
The U.S. Navy’s Continuing Promise deployments also contribute significantly to the region. Humanitarian teams comprised of U.S. military personnel, partner nations’ forces and civilian relief volunteers aboard a U.S. Navy ship bring health care, humanitarian assistance and infrastructure improvements to selected communities throughout the region. (Budget issues lead to cancellation of Continuing Promise 2013 mission, other exercises)
SOUTHCOM humanitarian activities are not limited to major operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The command also seeks to build partner nation capacity to conduct humanitarian and disaster relief operations within their own borders to improve self-reliance, as well as outside them if they are willing.
Foreign disaster relief efforts
The command is poised to direct U.S. military forces to help a nation in the aftermath of a disaster. Any such mission is in support of U.S. Agency for International Development/Office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), which serves as the lead U.S. federal agency for foreign disaster relief efforts. U.S. Southern Command supports the comprehensive U.S. government disaster response approach led by USAID/OFDA.
USAID/OFDA incorporates U.S. Southern Command capabilities into the overall U.S. government’s disaster response efforts to save lives, alleviate human suffering, and reduce the economic and social impact of the disaster.
In the past few years, SOUTHCOM has been called into action numerous times to help partner nations in need. The most significant recent operation was Operation Unified Response in 2010, which saw Joint Task Force-Haiti lead a force of about 22,000 troops, more than 30 ships and 300 aircraft that provided life saving assistance and delivered/distributed millions of pounds of food and water following a significant earthquake in Port au Prince, Haiti.
Helping partners in the region improve planning and response to natural and man-made disasters is a key part of SOUTHCOM’s mission. The command works year-round on projects that enhance the capacity of host nations to respond and recover when disasters strike.
SOUTHCOM sponsors disaster preparedness exercises, seminars, and conferences to improve the collective ability of the U.S. and its partner nations to respond effectively and expeditiously to disasters.
SOUTHCOM has also supported the construction or improvement of Emergency Operations Centers and Disaster Relief Warehouses, and has provided pre-positioned relief supplies across the region. This type of multinational disaster preparedness has also proven to increase the ability of SOUTHCOM to work with our partner nations.
The command envisions a region in which mutual assistance is the norm.