Haitian Earthquake: Civil-Military Cooperation Two Years On

As the transition continues from Humanitarian Relief to Development, is Haiti an example of successful Civil-Military cooperation for the United Nations Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti?

By Dr M H K Bulmer for RUSI.org

The recent passing of the second anniversary of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake and the address by the President of Haiti, Michel Martelly at the 42nd World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, provides an opportunity to reflect on lessons from the United Nations Mission relevant to Civil-Military co-operation to support United Nations humanitarian activities in complex emergencies.

Civil-Military co-operation tasks are critical to winning and maintaining the consent of the Haitian people to the continued presence of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) ,and troop contributing nations have been asked to support them on a voluntary basis. As such, it is up to each contingent country to determine when, where, and in what way they do this.

2010 Haitian Earthquake

As has been well documented, the earthquakes that hit Haiti on 12 January 2010 caused major damage with an estimated 316,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1 million homeless. Government sources reported more than 150,000 people had to be buried in mass graves. Some 105,000 homes were completely destroyed and more than 208,000 damaged. It was estimated that over 1,300 educational establishments and over fifty hospitals and health centres collapsed or were designated as unusable. Part of the country's main port was not operational, the President's Palace, Parliament, the Law Courts, and most of the Ministry and public administration buildings were also all destroyed.

At the time, there was already an existing UN Mission in Haiti dating from 2004, which included 6,700 troops as well as 548 civilian staff. Its mandate was to pacify the country, promote free elections and resume national governance.  Ninety six UN peacekeepers including the Mission's Chief, Hédi Annabi, his deputy, Luiz Carlos da Costa, and police commissioner Douglas Coates, died in the earthquake and the headquarters of MINUSTAH, located in the capital, collapsed. Despite this, MINUSTAH was able to form a core around which the Earthquake response could be organised. Humanitarian relief efforts focused on the areas of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Léogâne, and other affected zones. UN organisations OCHA[1] and UNDAC[2] established two sub-On-site Operations Co-ordination Centres in Jacmel and Léogâne. By 25 January 2010, the UN Food Cluster had reached over 500,000 people with some form of assistance but it was estimated that there were 2 million in need. The UN Shelter Cluster estimated that the number of people living in spontaneous settlements in Port-au-Prince to be as high as 800,000.

The OCHA-supported Multi-Cluster Rapid Need Assessment took place from 25-27 January and analysed needs in health, food, shelter, protection, and water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion. Twenty teams carried out assessments by road and by helicopter. The information provided the baseline assessment for humanitarian operations and informed of future requirement. The UK government sent in a Department for International Development (DFID) Assessment Team and this was joined by a 16-person Ministry of Defence reconnaissance team that arrived in Port-au-Prince during the evening of 23 January as well as a team of three from the Stabilisation Unit. They worked with the DFID team to identify options for their respective interventions.

The UN MINUSTAH Mandate after the Earthquake

On 19 January 2010, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed resolution 1908, which endorsed the Secretary-General's recommendation to increase the overall force levels of MINUSTAH to 8,950, with 4,391 police to support the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country.

In 2011, Presidential elections were held and in November the UNSC requested MINUSTAH revert to fulfill its original mandate to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti's Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights.

The Civil-Military Space in 2012

The UN MINUSTAH mission is led by the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Head of Mission, along with two Deputy SRSG's (one who acts as the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator), Force Commander and Police Commissioner. Currently, there are nineteen countries contributing military personnel and forty-nine contributing police personnel.

Based upon a briefing attended by the author, the Force Commander, Major General Luiz Eduardo Ramos Pereira from Brazil has determined that the current mandate does not extend to cover Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC)[3] or Civil-Military Co-ordination (CMCoord)[4] tasks, but believes that they along with UN funded quick impact projects, the community violence reduction programme and engineering assets are the best 'weapons' that MINUSTAH currently possesses to win and maintain the consent of the Haitian people to the presence of MINUSTAH. To conduct CIMIC activities that cannot be paid for out of the MINUSTAH mission budget,[5] troop contributing nations have been asked to support them on a voluntary basis. As such, it is up to each contingent country to determine when, where, and in what way they do this. The U9-CIMIC Staff at MINUSTAH Headquarters request that they be informed of CIMIC activities but it is up to each contingent to determine the level to which this occurs. By contrast, engineer assets are under Force command and tasked through U8-Engineer Support Staff at MINUSTAH Headquarters. 

Voluntary Approach

Voluntary CIMIC activities that troop contingents such as the Brazilian military have organised include food, milk and water distributions, dental hygiene instruction, handing out Hygiene Kits, organising events such as setting up an outdoor cinema, and organising football matches. These have occurred within Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps, schools, day care centres and orphanages. It is estimated that there are still over 400,000 people living in camps many of which were spontaneous and do not conform to Sphere Standards Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response,[6] resulting in continuing difficulties in meeting basic human needs. The number of orphanages is in the hundreds, many of which are not officially registered. Conducting CIMIC activities on a voluntary basis requires that each contingent use its own national government and ingenuity to obtain resources.

For many troop contingents, there is a determination to do whatever they can and examples of this include giving some of their salary each week to a Battalion or Company CIMIC purchasing fund, volunteering on their time off, and reducing their food and water rations which at the end of each week are bagged and distributed.


These voluntary CIMIC activities can only happen if security is maintained on the ground where there is high population density, high income and health poverty, weak government and community institutions, lack of co-ordination across community groups, inadequate waste management and sanitation, poor water quality, and risk of water borne diseases. The security conditions vary across Haiti and especially within the capital, parts of which can be very volatile. Gangs continue to be active with murders, rapes and lynching's being some of the major challenges facing the Haitian National Police (HNP) mentored by United Nations Police, and the military ground holding units. Regional elections are expected to be held later this year and these will require a large security and logistics operation. Medical hazards include malaria and cholera as well as HIV AIDS. In addition, there remains considerable vulnerability to the impacts of natural events such as Hurricane 'Tomas' which hit in November 2010; which set back much of the relief work that had been carried out. Moreover, the 2012 rainy season has already caused deaths and flooding.

Measure of Success

This voluntary approach to CIMIC has succeeded in that activities are being delivered within certain troop contingent nations areas of responsibility in and around Port-au-Prince. In addition, when UN operations within MINUSTAH have been planned, in which CIMIC activities support achieving the objectives, troop contributing nations have again asked to volunteer assets and resources and have done so. What is being delivered is largely meeting the Force Commanders desire to win and maintain the consent of the Haitian people to the presence of MINUSTAH. This is significant outcome and a very interesting example of how CIMIC activities can be delivered within a UN Peacekeeping mission. A variety of observations can be made regarding the approach that warrant further consideration if it is to be used again.

With the levels of need that continue to exist and the way that CIMIC activities are being delivered there is no way to address the needs of Haitians in a sustainable way. This is becoming increasingly problematic as humanitarian relief actors leave Haiti. Military contingents are conducting voluntary CIMIC activities within their own respective areas of operations often with no formal national military doctrine or structure for such activities. This is resulting in a lack of uniformity in delivery that is further compounded by liaison and co-ordination across contingent boundaries and with the U9-CIMIC cell being less effective than it would be if CIMIC tasks were mandated.

This has resulted in information, knowledge, and awareness gaps across the force, as well as different approaches to CIMIC reflecting the culture of the troop contingent and issues of equitability in distribution. Word travels rapidly across parts of the city and contingents that have not been a part of, or informed about, a CIMIC activity being conducted in another part of the city can find themselves put under real pressure by locals within their area of operation demanding the same. In addition, having forged relationships with a particular group of Haitians there is often a desire to continue that relationship even when they are no longer within a current area of responsibility.

This can be exasperating for the UN Civil Affairs group that often only finds out after the military activity has been conducted and therefore were unable to input in its delivery and intended effect or co-ordinate with the larger regional civilian effort. For those countries that are conducting this volunteer CIMIC activity, commanders are finding a range of related issues being thrown up that need to be carefully managed. For example, for many soldiers the plight of young orphan children can become emotionally charged especially since they need more than can be provided. Commanders have come to understand that they need to husband their CIMIC resources and capabilities to last the length of the deployment. Since the CIMIC activities are voluntary using a contingents own resources, the issue of security is important to the troops and this often results in a decision by them not to inform others. This can result in instances where successful CIMIC activities were delivered within a contingent's area of responsibility but no knowledge of these existing outside within the larger mission. This limits the ability of U9 to measure the effects of CIMIC activities and to pass on either metrics to the senior leadership or press releases to media elements within MINUSTAH such as the Military Public Information Office.

Delivering appropriate and effective CIMIC in this complex and volatile environment requires real commitment and dedication. There are opportunities to examine what has been delivered by the UN MINUSTAH mission and to give thought to these in the context of other Peacekeeping and Peace Support Missions and especially in assistance to other low lying urban areas that occur in coastal areas with high levels of poverty and unstable political systems all of which are vulnerable to natural hazards.  

Dr Bulmer is a NATO civil expert in Civil Protection, a Research Associate Professor, Director of the Geophysical Flow Observatory at the University of Maryland, and is trained in UK Stabilisation. He recently returned from a knowledge exchange with the Brazilian Military within the UN Stabilisation Mission (MINUSTAH) in Haiti.



[1] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (2009).

[2] United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination.

[3] UN CIMIC is a military staff function in UN integrated missions that facilitates the interface between the military and civilian components of the mission, as well as with the humanitarian, development actors in the mission area, in order to support the UN mission objectives.

[4] UN CMCoord is the essential dialog and interaction between civilian and military actors in humanitarian emergencies necessary to protect and promote humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency, and when appropriate, pursue common goals. Guidelines for Civil-Military Coordination in Haiti, OCHA Haiti, August 2011.

[5] Approved budget (1 July 2011 - 30 June 2012): $793,517,100.

[6] The Sphere Handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response, Third edition 2011. ISBN 978-1-908176-00-4.

*Photo: A distribution point for Hygiene Kits to a local IDP camp run by a patrol from BRABAT 2. The women who had received ticket numbers to collect the kits can be seen in the background lined up along the wall. This activity had to conducted very quickly before word spread and hundreds came out to try and get kits.

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