- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2016

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — U.S. defense officials and their Latin American counterparts will meet here this week to try to hammer out a regionwide humanitarian and disaster relief policy, opening the door to increased cooperation on natural disasters such as the recent Hurricane Matthew.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior defense leaders from Central and South America will sit down Tuesday to hash out details of the plan, a senior U.S. defense official said.

“This is the first step … and our partners in the region are really committed to push this forward,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, regarding development of the new policy. “We are seeing a lot of members in the region stepping up in a number of ways,” in terms of disaster response and humanitarian operations.

A coordinated disaster policy is one of the top issues for the biannual meeting of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, a consortium of defense leaders from Central and South America designed to address security threats in the region.

The idea of a regional humanitarian strategy was initially proposed during consortium’s last meeting in Uruguay.

“We expect [the discussion] to be very different this time, in part because the dynamics have changed significantly” in the region, the official said. The framework for the proposed policy was drafted by defense leaders in Chile, and will be the focus of the discussions here, the official added.

“There is momentum here,” for the plan but “will require follow-on work” to formalize a policy acceptable to all members of the defense coalition.

“The Chilean proposal is very ambitious … but I am confident there will be movement” particularly in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

The Category 4 storm made landfall on Haiti’s southern coast last Tuesday, bringing in upwards of 40 inches of rain and gusting winds surging over 145 miles per hour, according to reports by The Associated Press.

The Defense Department has deployed 300 Marines aboard the USS Mesa Verde warship, alongside a swath of cargo helicopters and surveillance planes to support U.S.-led humanitarian operations in Haiti.

Additionally, U.S. National Guard units along the eastern seaboard have also been deployed for disaster response and relief operations in states hit by the storm.

As American humanitarian operations continue in the Caribbean, the damage and destruction left in the storm’s path was yet another reason for the need for a regionwide disaster response policy, the defense official said.

Separately, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator has issued an emergency appeal for nearly $120 million in aid to Haiti Monday, as local aid officials struggled to get food, medicine and water, The Associated Press reported.

“Families that were fortunate to survive the hurricane now find themselves in a struggle to survive, with thousands of homes and livelihoods washed away by the storm,” U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said.

Power was still out across much of the affected area, water and food were scarce, and officials said that young men in villages along the road between the hard-hit cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie were putting up blockades of rocks and broken branches to halt convoys of vehicles bringing relief supplies.

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