Disaster Management

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Reassessing India’s
Disaster Management
Preparedness and
the Role of the Indian
Armed Forces

Shivananda H. and P.K. Gautam*

In recent years, the intensity of the occurrence of natural disasters has increased manifold. Responding to this, the Government of India has undertaken various measures to mitigate the impact of disasters. Even so, the response of the civil authorities is often found inadequate and the armed forces are called out to assist the civil administration. The armed forces never fail to respond in a prompt manner, but without proper data on various local resources, skills, essential services and equipment. Hence, there is a dire need of the armed forces to be trained in the field of disaster management to deal with disasters of various types.

Introduction

The vulnerability of mankind to disasters of various types has increased considerably all over the world. It has posed new and unconventional challenges to the nations and even compelled the policymakers to redefine the concept of security. In such an evolving environment, the concept of disaster management has gained much significance. After Japan was hit by the tsunami on March 11, 2011 followed by the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant that resulted in the loss of valuable lives and destruction of infrastructure, disaster management is being discussed worldwide. The situation in India is not better since 55 per cent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes; 68 per cent is vulnerable to drought; 12 per cent to floods; and 8 per cent to cyclones apart from the heat waves, and severe storms.1 Nonetheless, the approach of combating disasters within a policy framework is of recent origin in India. In the past, when disaster struck, the department of relief and rehabilitation of the Union Ministry of Agriculture was given the charge of providing relief material.2 Its approach had primarily remained post-disaster management centric. However, with the enactment of the Disaster Management Act of 2005, there has been a paradigm shift from response and relief to mitigation and preparedness. This paper examines disaster preparedness in India and the related role of the armed forces. It also analyses the deployment of the armed forces in disaster management in the near future and seeks to make policy recommendations that

* Dr. Shivananda. H is a Researcher and Col. PK Gautam (Retd.) is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

102

Journal of Defence Studies

Reassessing India’s Disaster Management Preparedness and the Role of the Indian Armed Forces

could augment the capability of the armed forces to respond to such unconventional threats.
Disasters and Armed Forces (Disasters as Threat to National Security)

The trend of occurrence of disasters—both natural and man-made—is increasing and will escalate in future. Disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes, which have been the most destructive, along with the floods and droughts that arise from extreme weather conditions, are expected to get worse due to adverse impact of climate change. India has also experienced the some of the worst industrial and infrastructure related disasters in the past, including the Bhopal gas leak disaster in December 1984 caused by the leakage of methyl isocyanate gas which resulted in numerous casualties.3

In the 21st century, the 2001 Bhuj earthquake; the 2004 tsunami; the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir; heavy rainfall in Mumbai in 2006 when nearly 1 m rain fell in a single day; the 2008 Bihar Kosi disaster; the August 2010 cloud burst in Leh; and, most recently, the September 2011 Sikkim earthquake have seen the armed forces as first responders.4 During the annual monsoon season, floods can be forecast like the rising sun in the Brahmaputra river basin areas, and even without prior warning the armed forces, mainly the army, gear up to respond like an annual ritual. Flood relief by...
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