Africom Promotes Humanitarian Response Readiness in Africa
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany, Jul. 5, 2012 As the worst drought in six decades grips the Horn of Africa, displacing millions of people and creating a severe humanitarian crisis, the United States has stepped up its emergency assistance.
An additional $120 million in emergency aid announced in April brings to $1.1 billion the U.S. contribution in drought and famine relief since the crisis began last year, White House officials said, with funding provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, understands all too well the security implications of a fragile humanitarian situation that has left millions of people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya in need of urgent assistance.
“The linkage between security and humanitarian efforts in Africa is very clear to me,” he told the House Armed Services Committee in February.
Ham expressed concern that looming budget cuts, particularly at the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, could affect the United States’ ability to assist during this and other humanitarian crises on the continent.
“I do worry overall that if there is a significant decline in the State Department’s security assistance or in USAID’s ability to provide developmental or humanitarian assistance, those will have security consequences,” he said.
Since its inception five years ago, Africom has stood ready to support U.S. government humanitarian and disaster relief operations, said Michael Casciaro, the command’s division chief for security cooperation programs.
“The military brings unique capabilities that are used for humanitarian assistance,” he said. “And that ranges from developing long-range projects like … building clinics and schools and providing furniture and equipment for them.”
It also includes helping African partners to build capability -- from training them how to conduct humanitarian response operations, to helping them promote HIV/AIDS prevention programs -- so they can conduct these missions themselves.
Africom also works with partner nations to help them develop national humanitarian response plans that include their militaries, Casciaro said. “We then focus on those tasks that were assigned to the military, and help them understand what capabilities are required to be able to do that, and how they need to train to do that,” he said.
In support of this effort, Africom is emphasizing disaster response as well as traditional military skills through its robust exercise program on the continent. This year alone, the command and its service components are conducting 16 exercises involving about 30 African nations, all to include a component related to environmental disaster, Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. The scenarios will run the gamut, he said, but most will involve floods or drought.
These exercises help partner nations formulate and practice plans for responding to natural as well as manmade disasters within their borders, explained Marine Corps Lt. Col. Sam Cook, Africom’s joint combined exercise branch chief. “It increases their ability and capability and capacity to conduct these operations themselves,” he said.
Ham said African nations are “very accepting” of this training, and understand the security effects of humanitarian assistance and disaster response preparedness. He expressed concern, however, that Africom is finding “less traction on the preventive steps than we are on responses.”
The general credited the interagency makeup of Africom, which includes about 30 representatives from more than a dozen U.S. agencies and departments, which he said gives it the capabilities needed to help address challenges requiring “nothing short of a whole-of-government approach.”
“No one element of the government has all the resources, authorities or capabilities to address the impacts on security of environmental change,” Ham said.
That, he said, demands that Africom work closely with chiefs of mission in Africa who have the responsibility to pull together that whole-of-government approach, as well as with various bureaus in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to coordinate and synchronize efforts.
That, Ham said, will help achieve the desired end state: “assisting the African countries deal with an increasingly serious security matter that ultimately contributes to our security by them being more secure.”