LT Wilson (with red bucket) practices his Naval damage control training and volunteer fire fighting training, advising both local authorities and the Indian Force Protection on fire prevention measures (WN09-0041-024).
30 December 2009
by LT Andrew Wilson
Kia ora all,
It's hard to believe that back home New Zealand has moved towards summer after a very long winter, whereas we in Sudan are in the grips of the winter dry season. I would say the 'cool' season, but 43 degrees is not actually that cool!
This is an update from UNMIS: The United Nations Mission in Sudan. New Zealand contributes three people to UNMIS: one Senior Officer (plans) and two United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs). Currently both UNMO's are from the Navy, and I am from the Navy Reserve.
We are the UN's eyes on the ground. We have freedom of movement within our areas of responsibility (AOR) and together with our assigned National Monitors we undertake patrols to gather information on the security situation, food and medical status. More recently we have been concerned with the Electoral Process.
I'm based in Bentiu, which is on the migration path of the Nomadic Cattle Herdsmen who travel south in search of grasslands to graze their cattle during the dry season and return north again in the wet season. This migration brings its own issues in a country without fences and where gun battles are fought over cows.
On one of my recent patrols I was tasked to gather information on some killings and abductions. After a long journey over what in New Zealand we would call terrible roads, but in Sudan we call pretty good, I met with the township Elder about the security situation. He advised that they had had four children abducted, two wives kidnapped, 200 head of cattle rustled, and a shooting. He wanted to know what the United Nations was doing to get the cattle back!
On another of my recent missions we were again tasked to meet the Village Elder and assess the medical situation and the food and water situation with the view to getting the World Food Program out there should the need arise. We also had to assess the security situation as there had been a shooting two days before.
So the local situation: The food situation is in "crisis" as there has been limited rain fall over the rainy season. Because it is relatively peaceful, many people that fled the area are returning. They return without food.
The county has 45 bores. They have funding from donor countries for a further 90. Of the 45, half do not work due to lack of maintenance. Of the new bores none have been drilled. It was estimated 70% of his county does not have access to clean water and draws from the Nile. They don't like drawing from the Nile due to the high number of bodies in it. [I have cancelled my holiday to Egypt and the Nile. They have a major problem with malaria and cholera and the free medical clinic is full].
I took great pride in meeting with Civil Affairs on my return and next day saw a convoy of three trucks heading toward our previous destination.
Now we are in the dry season the locals are burning off all the grasses (after they have harvested sufficient to rebuild the tuckles) to make way for the winter crop plantings. The problem being dry scrub, hot temperatures and a gentle breeze things can go slightly amiss.
We had two days and a night with fire issues A few fires were lit downwind of us and very quickly headed our direction. I was a firefighter for about six years, so I made myself known to the Indian Force Protection Commander. We were soon building firebreaks using the APC's and had fire crews on hand.
The fires had burned a lot of the flamable vegetation so things could have been worse. It was great to see the team from the UNMO's and UN Staff working together with the Indian Force Protection Unit to battle the flames and to stop them leaping the perimeter into our team site proper.
One of the interesting sights was seeing all the birds following the fire plucking off the animals fleeing before the flames. I didn't know this but we had a cobra in the camp site. Will provide photo to any interested party!
After the threat of the scrub fires had passed we were stood down and I went for my afternoon PT (physical training) session.
While on my circuit I noticed that the fire had reversed course and was heading toward two of the local Tuckles. The local houses are made of dried grass so needless to say they were a little excited. Although they do not have much, they were in a panic removing all their household belongings.
So once more it was 'action stations', this time forming a bucket brigade. End state, tuckles saved - locals happy (maybe now they will forgive us for our constant generator noise). The Indian Force Protection were amused that one of the UNMO's officers was actually in there carry buckets, and I am sure at one stage I was man alone as they all stopped and took photos!
I would have never have thought all those sessions in DC school would have seen my Navy training put to use in a scrub fire in Sudan working next to Indian soldiers using buckets. Go Navy!
I have only been here two months yet what I have will seen will see me through coffee dates for a very long time.
I know that our Career Manager in the Reserves likes to say we bring three arms to the NZDF. I believe he says we bring our trade training, our rank and our civilian background. I think with the life experiences I am learning on the Mission that if I started off with three arms I will be leaving Sudan as an Octopus - with eight!