Ottawa, June 12 (RFE/RL) -- Canada is creating a military
quick response team that will be available to aid victims of
disasters around the world. The new squad will be called DART -- the
Disaster Assistance Response Team.
Canada's Defense Minister David Collenette says "the complexity,
severity and frequency of disasters are taxing relief agencies around
the world, and the Canadian Forces have the unique capability and
resources to assist in meeting these challenges."
Collenette says it takes up to 40 days for the international
community to respond to crises, and DART will fill the gap during the
critical period when no other help is available.
The new team will be made up of 180 people, including doctors,
engineers, infantry soldiers and communications specialists to
address what Collenette says are the "main needs in most emergency
situations: medical care, potable water, power generation, disposal
of explosives and searching for mines and providing emergency
Canada has developed a history, says Collenette, of providing quick
response teams to disaster areas in the past: filling the gap in 72
hours when Belgium pulled its officers out of Rwanda, providing
soldiers to Haiti's peacekeeping force when the United Nations could
not get full backing for the project, and helping with hurricane
disaster relief in the Caribbean and Florida.
Collenette says the new force will be deployed only when it has been
specifically requested by the United Nations or host country. It will
be considered in operations where rapid humanitarian assistance is
the primary objective and a military component would be an
appropriate response. But, says Collenette, "if a civilian relief
group is a more cost-effective choice, than DART would not be sent."
Some humanitarian agencies in Canada fear that military assistance
will endanger their efforts or duplicate the work these groups are
providing for less money than the military can. Gilles Sandre, head
of International Services for the Canadian Red Cross, says: "DART is
more suitable for reponse in natural disasters than to more complex
emergencies, such as war zones where armed soldiers could lose their
important neutral status."
Tim Pitt, executive director of Canada's branch of Doctors Without
Borders, says "neutrality is the greatest protection we have in the
field." He says: "There are situations where cooperation with United
Nations forces infringes on the perception of the neutrality of aid
workers and makes their work harder, with dire consequences.
Governments should respond before a crisis, through diplomatic
channels, rather than deploying 200 military guys after the kettle
boils over." He says: "Crisis emergency medical intervention is our
forte, and we don't need the military to come in and help us do the
A spokesman for CARE Canada, Kevin McCort, says Canada "must listen
to the advice of aid agencies" before sending in a rapid response
team. He says the military "can help with logistics, since they can
fly in enormous quantities of supplies."