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Navies step in as natural disasters rises
Port Blair, Feb 7 (IANS):
Published on 7 Feb. 2010 11:35 PM IST
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With natural disasters registering a four-fold increase in the past decade owing to a variety of factors, the navies of the Asia-Pacific region are gearing up for an increasing humanitarian role and deliberating on the means to provide succour during calamities. “One sees a pattern of natural disasters occurring more frequently. It must also be recognized that some 40 percent of humanity lives within 100 km of the coast. Because of this, disasters that emanate from the seas cause maximum damage,” Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma told reporters. Towards this end, 13 navies from the Asia-Pacific region got together here for Exercise Milan to deliberate on, among other things, an effective mechanism “to save lives, alleviate sufferings”. The four-day exercise, hosted by the Indian Navy, had begun Thursday. The frequency of natural disasters in the world has risen from 10 per year to 40 in the past decade, an expert pointed out, adding that the south and southeast Asian regions were particularly prone to disasters. “Tsunamis, cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods have been affecting the region with increased frequency. There has been four-fold increase in the frequency of disasters in the past decade and the increase is likely to be five-fold over the next five years,” Commodore (retd) Rajeev Sawhney of think tank United Services Institution told IANS. Verma called upon the navies of the region need to evolve a common operating policy to engage in humanitarian assistance. “We need to evolve a common operating policy. We have been engaged in relief work for over a decade and there is no common lexicon about what humanitarian assistance and disaster relief involves. We need to go further,” said Verma. India was among the first countries to send aid to Indonesia and Sri Lanka after the 2004 Tsunami badly hit their coastal regions. Learning from its experience, the Indian Navy has incorporated humanitarian assistance in its doctrine, while all its ships carry relief material like tents, blankets and medicines. As happened in the aftermath of the tsumani, it has often been seen that the magnitude of a disaster has been so great that no single country can tackle it alone and thus the need for greater international cooperation, an official said. This is because the armed forces have invariably been the first to respond to a calamity, followed by the civilian agencies for long-term assistance. According to experts, the fastest access to any disaster prone region would be via the sea and this pointed to the need to develop capability and capacity for providing humanitarian assistance. Colonel Chua Meng Seng of the Singapore Navy pressed for integration of resources to meet the challenges of logistics in the wake of calamities. “There was an earthquake in China, cyclones in Bangladesh and the tsunami affecting India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. So we need to integrate efforts to meet the challenge of logistics. We should also have regional command and control centre,” said Seng, who is the deputy commander of Singapore’s Maritime Security Task Force. The city-state has also established a command and control centre to streamline disaster relief management. Putting forth his country’s perspective in dealing with disaster management, Commander Mehedi Masud of the Bangladesh Navy also sought to coordinate efforts to meet the challenges in times of distress. “Bangladesh is among the most disaster-prone countries in the world. We have been building multipurpose shelters - concrete buildings on pillars that allow the water to pass beneath. We have also brought changes in the crop pattern. However, it is imperative to learn from each other’s experience,” said Masud.

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