Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Navigating the waterways around the Puerto Lempira swampland (Honduras).

I am finally able to get back on track updating my Security Risk Assessment blog. I have been very busy lately with several professional projects and evaluations. I hope I will be able to regularly inform you through the columns of my blog about international challenges and security threats.
I visited Puerto Lempira – Honduras during my SRA in April 2009. Puerto Lempira is a very peculiar city due to its geographical and orographical conditions. It’s located in the Mosquitia Region, in the south of the country, bordering Nicaragua. A large part of this region includes swampland-like area featuring several rivers, creeks, natural canals and lakes. The large lagoon facing Puerto Lempira town represents the main water access both to open sea and internal canals.
To carry out its mission the humanitarian international organization I was working for had at its disposal two light boats and two cars. Two local indigenous communities, Uanpusirte and Auas, receive from the organization via boat food and of combustible to help with expensive navigation costs. The great majority of the assisted communities are located along water ways, few in the inner land. The weather conditions are generally good but the rainy season (between July and December). The area is normally very affected during this period by tropical storms and sporadically by hurricanes. The local autochthon ethnic group is Miskito and the most spoken language is Miskito even if the official one is Spanish. Most of the populations understand Spanish. The area is generally calm and few are the crime related episodes reported. The communities are watching their neighborhoods. During the night hours some cases of common crime events were recently reported (little robberies mainly).

Organized criminal activities:
Organized crime is present and its core business is drug trafficking. Several air, sea and land routes cross this region. Traffickers are almost invisible though everybody seems to perceive their presence.
The local communities are involved in the drug business only when a go-fast boat or a tourism private airplane loaded with cocaine coming from Colombia, crashes or faces direct threat by law enforcement agencies and their drug charge is left on the ground. Local populations rapidly take advantage of the situation catching as much content as possible. Police often remains with empty hands. Only boats or the aircrafts are recovered.
Narco traffickers lately buy at “fair” price the drug from the communities.
The general perception is that this is a great opportunity to those poor communities almost disconnected from the rest of the world.
Our local staff have never felt directly threaten from such trafficking. Our boats are clearly marked.
The threat in the Gracias a Dios region posed by organized crime can be assessed as low/medium.

Eating coconuts before the navigation mission on the Caribbean shores

Threat mitigations measures
The level of acceptance of the organization within the local populations is high. Indeed the clearly marked official vehicles and boats help to be recognized. The staff in charge of the Puerto Lempira office are well known and respected.
Contracted motorists conduct our boats along the water ways, canals, lagoon, rivers and open sea. They are very skilled and their knowledge of the area is depth. Staff travel, if possible, always with a representative of the government counterpart of the Ministry of Education who is well known as well. It is mandatory to obtain a navigation permit from the Port Authority prior every trip by boat. The permit includes names of those using the boat, the itinerary and other relevant details. Staff usually call our point of contact in the municipality they are about to visit in order to get fresh security information.
Best time frame to conduct field operation between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM.
Finally, the good and appropriate personal behavioral conduct of the staff is a further element to consider within the general mitigation measures.

Demonstration / political:
At present, there is no obvious potential for politically motivated violence.
The local departmental branch of Ministry of Education has been recently blocked by protesters, usually teachers. The protests are not violent and usually last one day. The current threat of violent demonstration is assessed as low.

Accidental Shooting:
The risk to be involved in an accidental shooting is low.

Medical Emergency:
In Puerto Lempira is active a public hospital. The two clinics present in the region are located in Gracias a Dios and Dos Leones. Every single municipality has a health centre in which basic emergencies can be treated. Cuban doctors are working in these centers along with Honduran doctors according with an agreement between the governments of Honduras and Cuba.
Only one ambulance is available at Puerto Lempira which often is not operative. Those who need emergency medical care are transported to hospitals with private vehicles or boats. Local populations are very collaborative when a medical emergency occurs. Our staff as well has often helped to transport people to hospital putting at disposal the boat as only available transportation means in the area. In this case the procedure envisages that the passenger signs a discharge of responsibility form allowing staff to transport him/her by official boat/vehicle.
Poisoning snakes are infesting the area and everybody here can be exposed to the risk of being bite.
The risk for staff to not receive adequate medical assistance is high because of the lack of basic medical service in the region, the harsh geographic condition.
The risk of injury from fire is assessed as low.

Road Travel
As mentioned above, the most used transportation means are the boats. Nevertheless some communities are assisted visited by car since they are located in the mainland (very harsh swampland-like environment).
There are absolutely no paved roads and their maintenance is virtually inexistent. In some cases there are no roads at all and staff drive in the wildness to reach the inner communities. Driving during the rainy season can be very difficult/harmful. The organization’s cars are equipped with special “Tractor” high grip tires.
The hazard posed by road condition is assessed as high.

Boats are stored along the lagoon shore at motorist location.
Boats, to be fully compliant must have the following features:
Ø Fire extinguishers
Ø Second emergency engine on board
Ø Bengala signaling rockets
Ø First aid kit
Ø Radio systems including sat phones
Ø Life vests suitable for adults and children.
Ø GPS system

Emergency food transported by an Honduran military helicopter after hurrican strike.

Food transported via boat to the indigenous communities within the lagoon.

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