The simulation of the humanitarian response to hurricanes in Caribbean Sea has finished, and I am now back to Panama City.
I am exhausted. The simulation was a very active undertaking, with lots of practical exercises in the field (visiting communities, making assessments). As the temperature kept on exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, the simulation took its toll. I got back to Panama literally ready for bed and a long, long sleep.
Despite being tired, I enjoyed the experience tremendously: both professionally and personally. I think that all of us found something useful… For me, I think that I managed to demystify a little how armies and civil protection forces work, and appreciate their commitment to deliver the best possible response to the affected people, even if, we may still at times, have a different perception what the priorities during emergencies may be. We challenged one another a lot… My colleagues tried to explain to me that their mandate is to strictly follow the orders of the host government, whereas I tried to have a slightly different approach, and argued that communities should be consulted first and foremost, even if that meant risk being at odds with host authorities. We had some really good discussions and identified lots of risks and opportunities for both of the approaches.
I loved the experience on the personal level too, as the group was extremely involved and I found my colleagues to be interesting and really good people. I will definitely have fond memories, and look forward to be working together in the future (probably responding to a real situation).
Here in Panama, I am very excited with my Spanish. I notice progress daily and I find it comfortable to use the language. I still make lots of mistakes, there are still situations where I get a bit lots, but I guess, my communication skills are relatively decent now!
As I am now well established, I am now planning my personal movements until the end of the year. Although nothing is decided yet, it seems like, I may be visiting Tahir in Toronto and then make a quick visit to my home in Portugal at the beginning of November! Exciting times!
Things are happening fast… I am still dealing with the issues related to my last mission (Bolivia fires), but it is time to pack and get ready to travel to Curacao, off Venezuela coast at the Caribbean, where I am going to be participating in the simulation of the response to cyclones.
The simulation is arranged by the Dutch Civil Protection team, and will be attended by the teams from various European countries, which are a part of the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. As Curacao, along with Bonaire and Aruba are dependent on crisis management from the Netherlands - it makes sense that it is the Dutch team that is taking an initiative to arrange the simulation. As always, I will try updating you on how the exercise goes, in due time!
Many of us have been worried about the fires in the Amazonia and in many other parts of the world these days. In South America many countries are affected, with Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay and Peru suffering the most. Although, forestal fires are often considered to be natural disasters, sadly, in Amazonia in most cases, they are caused by people. What happens is that big farms and meat production industries are in need of new land for producing fodder for their ever growing beef sale (for the markets in Asia and Europe), and as they feel there is no other option available, they obtain land by clearing forests (burning forests, which gets out of control and destroys large areas of woods). The consequences are dear and scary, both to the environment, but also the thousands of poor indigenous ethnic groups living in the forests and from the forests… Their homes are ravaged, their livelihoods are destroyed, the air they breath is contaminated, and so is the water they drink… There are countless of other problems too, which are too long to mention here.
The cruel thing is that despite the international outcry, there is little done to deal with the fires, and more importantly with root causes. What is the saddest is that even if there may be some attention to physical burning of the woods, there is no attention given to the needs of the indigenous communities. They are poor, they do not seem to be important, they do not have a voice…
So yes, my visit to Bolivia was painful and disturbing, as it made me realise, how complex and complicated the ongoing crisis is, and that the fires are not so much about fires, but greed, money and economical interests of the rich, rather than the poor. The visit also made me realise that my work here will be difficult, and will require lots of sensitisation and advocacy… I am not under any illusion that my colleagues and I have enough weight to change the things, not at all, but then again, it is small steps and actions that sometimes trigger bigger events. And let this constitute some optimism for now.