Indo-Pacific countries work together to meet disaster challenges

Indo-Pacific countries work together to meet disaster challenges

Mandeep Singh

The Indo-Pacific region endured a cascade of natural disasters in 2018. Calamitous earthquakes struck Indonesia, while record-breaking floods pounded India and Japan. A powerful typhoon slammed into China, Hong Kong, South Korea and the Philippines as thousands of Indo-Pacific residents lost their lives and thousands more were left homeless.

Enhancing the collective abilities of navies to help people in distress was the theme of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium’s (IONS) Working Group on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) on September 27-28, 2018, in Visakhapatnam, India. Naval representatives from the Indo-Pacific and other regions convened.

Participants, including representatives from Australia, Bangladesh, France, Indonesia, Kenya, Oman, Thailand and others, “shared their experiences gained and lessons learned during the conduct of various HADR operations by their navies and deliberated on best practices,” according to a statement released by India’s Navy. The sessions focused on applying accumulated wisdom to future joint HADR operations in the Indian Ocean region.

Day two of the event featured a tabletop simulation in which participants rehearsed a coordinated response to a disaster. “From the tsunami of December 2004 up to now, the region has been dealing with many natural calamities,” retired Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar, director of the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi, told FORUM.“Hence, HADR is a regional imperative.”

Bhaskar emphasized the importance of events such as the IONS working group for the exchange of best practices to build capacity among regional navies. “IONS is the only forum that brings the naval chiefs of the Indian Ocean region together,” he said. “Hence, the IONS will foster greater comfort level among the navies in the region.”

The 24-member IONS was initiated in 2008 by the Indian Navy to enhance maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean by providing a forum for discussion and promoting friendly relationships among member nations.

Recent multilateral HADR naval exercises include the Milan exercise, hosted by India since 1995, which involves 16 countries, mostly from the Indo-Pacific. Exercise Komodo, hosted by Indonesia, occurred in May 2018 and drew 37 countries.

Successful disaster relief involves the sharing of resources, Bhaskar explained. These include relief capabilities such as the provision of medical aid, shelter and food. Cooperating nations also create a “pool of trained and experienced personnel who can respond when required at short notice,” he said.

By fostering international cooperation, IONS can serve as an example for cooperation in other areas, such as infrastructure improvements and food security, he added.

Mandeep Singh is aFORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.