THE prompt response from India to render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) to earthquake-hit Türkiye, a country which in recent years has not been among the best friends of New Delhi, shows diplomatic maturity. It manifests India’s theme for the G20 presidency: One Earth, One Family, One Future.
In the two decades preceding the Ukraine war, traditional war was at a low ebb and non-traditional threats emanating from climate change, terrorism and illegal migration, besides providing HADR, were the focus areas of India’s military collaboration with many countries.
In 2004, when the tsunami hit the neighbourhood, India’s naval outreach and HADR were prompt and impactful, particularly in Sri Lanka and the Aceh province of Indonesia. The 2004 HADR contribution by India brought forth its worth as an important partner and player in the Indian Ocean Region.
In 2015, Operation Maitri, undertaken to deal with the earthquake in Nepal, was India’s largest HADR operation and among the quickest of responses. It drew a positive response.
India has provided HADR to countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia as well as Eastern and Southern Africa. The primacy of India in rendering assistance to Sri Lanka in 2004, Nepal in 2015, during the water crisis in the Maldives in 2014 and the Rohingya refugee crisis in 2018 have given it an image of a leading HADR provider in South Asia. The relief operations to assist neighbours included dealing with cyclones (Nargis and Mara) since 2008 as these have been taking place with greater ferocity and periodicity.
South Asia and the adjoining regions have been exposed to flooding, quakes, tsunamis and other consequences of climate change. These accentuate the requirement for HADR. India has clearly signalled that in our region, it is the first responder and leading provider during emergencies.
Given India’s rising capabilities, it has gone beyond simple HADR to more complex issues such as dealing with the pandemic, chemical accidents and industrial matters. Thus, India’s outreach for HADR has grown both in terms of geographical space and the depth of its technical competence.
This has enhanced India’s image as an effective responder to deal with non-traditional crises. India’s responses during the pandemic showed its ability to have a large heart, open arms and capabilities of manufacturing pharmaceuticals, peripherals and vaccines, which gave it a deeper outreach than most countries that had the will, but not the abilities.
India’s success in dealing with natural disasters in its own area, like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, has improved its capabilities. The institutionalisation of the National Disaster Management Authority has given it a strong base. Similarly, the training accorded to the central armed police forces by bringing them into the specialised National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) has evolved into a success story. The effectiveness in providing solutions and succour during crises in India has improved rapidly.
The ability of the Indian Air Force to deliver equipment, men and material over long distances through its augmented transport fleet is a huge asset. Initially, the IL76 and, subsequently, the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster provide a huge outreach. These are effectively used within India as also in the neighbourhood, adding speed and intensity to the relief provided.
Coast Guard ships with pollution-control capabilities, naval ships with desalination plants and clinics have been a part of such relief operations too.
India’s outreach was exhibited when its ships delivered prompt assistance as part of Operation Sahayta in 2018 in Madagascar and Mozambique. During the pandemic, food was distributed by naval ships under Mission Sagar in the Horn of Africa.
Thus, India has been expanding the geographical reach of its HADR efforts to coincide with the widening imperative of the Indo-Pacific in our extended maritime neighbourhood.
The prompt delivery to Türkiye, therefore, signals a new dimension in India’s HADR diplomacy. First, it is to a country which is outside India’s neighbourhood and with whom there has been an uneven relationship over the last few years.
Secondly, Türkiye is a NATO member, which is often aligned with Pakistan. Reaching out to provide succour to its people is an effort to engaging with it to see whether a better relationship is feasible.
Thirdly, it shows India’s ability to deliver to a wider area of operation. Moreover, the delivery is not merely of relief material but also of trained NDRF personnel, excavating equipment, field hospital and retrieval dogs, who are able to find survivors among the wreckage of buildings.
These are augmented capacities which earlier only a few countries could provide and now India has joined the ranks. In the early aftermath of a disaster, such capabilities are urgently required and it gives India the edge.
India’s HADR efforts are effective and low cost in delivery. The Indian units are often self-sustaining and do not lean on local administrations in disaster-hit areas. This aspect is deeply respected by the recipient countries whose administrations are overwhelmed with the disaster.
After the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, the NDRF contingents were given a role slightly away from the main scene of action, but their independent and sustainable action saw their effectiveness on the ground without troubling the local administration. This generated much admiration and respect. In Türkiye, too, the teams have carried their own utility vehicles, excavators, dogs and their own food supply to be self-sufficient in operation.
The ‘Samanvay 2022’ exercise under SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) with regional stakeholders for HADR was held in Agra. India exhibited its role as a regional power and net security provider in the Indo-Pacific using its HADR capacities. This exercise formulated a joint approach in the region to deal with future disasters. It collated the NDMA, National Institute of Disaster Management, NDRF, Border Roads Organisation, India Meteorological Department, National Remote Sensing Centre and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services which provide the technical backdrop which is then used by the armed forces to arrange their delivery.
Today, the world is caught in a large number of disasters. This makes HADR a potent aspect of international collaboration, foreign policy and diplomatic engagement. It is important that India continues to develop these capabilities and expand them so that when a disaster strikes, Indian succour may be among the earliest and effective contributors.
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