Military & disaster management
In the wake of the massive earthquake in Nepal, the Indian armed forces have stepped up to undertake rescue and relief operations. Codenamed Operation Maitri, at least 24 military aircraft have been pressed into service along with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and scores of armed forces personnel to aid Nepalese authorities in coping with the sheer scale of destruction.From ferrying critical supplies to rescuing thousands of Indian tourists trapped in Nepal, the Indian armed forces were the first foreign teams to respond to the disaster. That Operation Maitri comes close on the heels of Operation Rahat—where Indian citizens trapped in war-torn Yemen were rescued—buttresses the humanitarian capabilities of the armed forces. Even during the Kashmir floods last year, it was the Indian army that won hearts with its relief operations. Against this backdrop, there’s a case for institutionalizing the armed forces’ relief and rescue competencies for dealing with calamities. As it is, India’s security environment with nuclear-armed Pakistan and China doesn’t yield itself to conventional warfare. Low-intensity asymmetric conflict continues to be a threat. But today the bulk of the armed forces’ resources are geared towards bolstering deterrence. While this is important, much of the underutilized military assets can be reoriented towards humanitarian efforts. This makes strategic sense too. A force that’s capable of providing quick disaster relief in foreign countries becomes a great ambassador for India. It could facilitate diplomatic breakthroughs in other areas. Moreover, the armed forces have accumulated rich experience and become a critical player when it comes to disaster relief within the country . To beef up and bring a degree of professionalism to India’s disaster relief agencies, the military’s role in disaster management should be institutionalised.
Disaster proofing India
Apropos of your edit “Disaster lessons”, it has to be borne in mind that Indian disaster response has matured a lot since the days of 1999 super-cyclone and the 2001 earthquake in Bhuj. Now, we are ready to take on the worst. We have successfully rebuilt after the flash floods in Uttaranchal. Let’s just hope that we are able to meet the same standards for disaster readiness as well.
Prahlad Bhasin, Mumbai