India today offered to host a joint urban earthquake search and rescue exercise with Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member nations, including China and Pakistan. Delivering the country statement at the 9th meeting of the heads of government of the SCO dealing with the prevention and elimination of emergency situation, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the exercise will be very useful in improving the collective preparedness. Singh said when the search and rescue teams engage in a joint exercise, they not only build a common understanding of internationally recognised procedures to coordinate in emergencies, they also build personal acquaintances and friendships that come in handy when they have to respond together. “India offers to host a joint exercise on urban earthquake search and rescue in 2019,” he said.
The home minister’s statement bears significance as if it happens all SCO members, including China and Pakistan, will participate in it. Singh also said India is ready to host the next meeting of the SCO head of departments dealing with disaster prevention. “Both the proposals moved by the home minister were accepted unanimously by all the members of the SCO,” the home minister’s office said in a tweet later. Founded in 2001, the SCO member countries are: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan, and the bloc is headquartered in Beijing. India and Pakistan had joined the SCO, the China- dominated security grouping, in June in Kazakhstan capital Astana. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended the summit. The home minister said between 1996 and 2015, the SCO countries have lost 3,00,000 lives to natural disasters. The economic losses from disasters are also extremely high and cascading.
“We are all exposed to a range of natural and man-made hazards. Natural events like earthquakes, floods, storms, landslides, epidemics etc are the major killers. The frequency and intensity of hydro-meteorological hazards is likely to rise in view of the climate change,” he said. Singh said if the nations do not make communities, capital assets, economic activities resilient, disaster losses will continue to rise. The home minister said in an interconnected world, risk reduction is no longer merely a local activity. Actions in one part of the world affect risks in other parts of the world. “Even when there is no obvious link between disasters in two distant geographies, underlying challenges in preventing disasters are common across the world.
“Therefore, we must continually learn from each other, innovate, and push the envelope so that we can build a safer world for ourselves and for the generations to come,” he said. Singh said nearly 40 per cent of the humanity lives in SCO countries and the block represents some of the fastest growing economies. “If we are able to prevent and reduce the impact of disasters and emergencies, it will have huge global benefits as well. None of the global targets on reducing disasters losses – whether they are enshrined in the Sendai Framework or Sustainable Development Goals – can be met by 2030, unless they are achieved by the SCO countries. International cooperation in this area is therefore important for all of us,” he said. He said the Indian government is making concerted efforts to reduce preventable deaths and other losses by analysing the patterns of disaster mortality and taking focused steps.
The home minister said India believes that cooperation on prevention of disasters and emergencies within the SCO framework will give added impetus to the domestic efforts. “At the same time, there are useful lessons from our work in India that other SCO member states can benefit from,” he said. Singh said a meeting of technical experts can be organised to facilitate exchange of knowledge and experiences on earthquake-resistant building construction, model building codes and standard processes for ensuring compliance. This can help address the medium and long term issues for reducing earthquake losses.
The home minister said work should be initiated on regional cooperation for making the infrastructure disaster- resilient. Over the coming decades, investment in infrastructure in the SCO countries will be the driver of sustainable development. “It is important to ensure that this infrastructure is resilient to the impact of disasters. Within the SCO framework we should exchange knowledge, experience and expertise on making infrastructure resilient through better understanding of risks, standards of design, and stronger technical capacities,” he said. Besides, Singh said, there is a need for cooperation in the area of early warning systems for extreme weather events. “The SCO member states may have very different climate and weather systems but the underlying processes for forecasting adverse weather events, anticipating their impacts and issuing early warnings remain the same,” he said.