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Business News/ News / World/  Countries want to train with Indian disaster relief agency: NDRF DG
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Countries want to train with Indian disaster relief agency: NDRF DG

Climate change is causing more disasters to happen...I feel NDRF can get pulled into more situations and we need to handle them, says Atul Karwal, NDRF’s Director General

Atul Karwal, NDRF’s Director General.Premium
Atul Karwal, NDRF’s Director General.

New Delhi: A number of countries are interested in training with and studying the National Disaster Response Force’s (NDRF’s) model said the director general of the force, Atul Karwal. As India’s economic clout grows and climate change increases the likelihood of natural disasters, the country’s unique experience in disaster relief efforts and standing relief forces give it a unique skill-set, which has also proven a handy diplomatic tool. According to Karwal, relief efforts in Turkey drove home that India needs to set benchmark response times to international disasters, acquire advanced rescue technology and ease logistical barriers to providing disaster relief in international settings. Karwal also revealed that India will also look to acquire international certifications that allow it to coordinate with other international rescue teams. Excerpts from an interview.

In the recent past, India has extended disaster relief support to countries ranging from Japan in the East to Turkey and Syria in West Asia. How do you see the evolution of India’s ability to respond to calamities in far-flung geographies?

After disasters like the 1999 Odisha super cyclone, the 2001 Bhuj Earthquakes and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, India took it on very strongly to prepare ourselves better for handling these crises. In 2005, the National Disaster Management Act was promulgated and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). I think the NDRF may have the unique distinction of being the only standalone, around-the-year, dedicated disaster response force in the world. A lot of developed nations have volunteers on board rather than a regular force like us.

The NDRF has matured over a period of 15 years in terms of our ability to respond to different crises. For example, the scale and speed of our response in Turkey was very much appreciated. The Turkish Ambassador told me that they had aid from 80 countries, and the Indian contingent was the fourth largest. Our responders mobilised quickly and our first plane was airborne on the first night after the earthquake. Our internal benchmark is that my first vehicle will get mobilised in the first 20 minutes of me receiving information. We don’t require formalities for mobilisation. A phone call or a news item will trigger my response rather than waiting for a formal request.

We’ve also seen an increase in competence, not just of the NDRF, but also of the other elements which factor into a disaster response. For example, our naval ships are moving to Africa to provide relief and the Coast Guard has got pollution control devices on their ships. So all in all, we are much more competent. Looking at the growth of India and the way it is coming up in the world, it befits our status and our increased competence and stature that we reach out anywhere in the world. The old tradition of India of reaching out to anybody who needs help, without caring about how relations have been, is a great humanitarian impulse in our way of thinking.

Have other countries approached India to emulate its disaster response agencies?

I attended a Track 1.5 gathering in Seychelles and the NDRF’s model was noticed by Interpol. I was then invited as the head of NDRF to Turkey, where I was required to make a presentation about NDRF to about 30 participating nations and some of them did want to train with us and understand the model of NDRF. There is a growing interest internationally in NDRF.

The NDRF has just participated in relief efforts in Turkey and Syria. What were the lessons learnt from these operations?

We have a benchmark for national deployments where we mobilise our first vehicles within 20 minutes of a disaster. We could develop a benchmark for international deployments as well. . Logistical issues also exist. During our response to the earthquakes in Turkey, our documentation like official passports took hours. During our response, we visited the other international relief teams there. We have got very interesting insights about what we need to have on board during emergencies like equipment, communication, clothing and transportation. We will work towards absorbing those lessons. Finally, we also want to improve interoperability. Under the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), there is an INSARAG benchmark which helps provide for interoperability with other countries in disasters. We have been trying for this certification and now the government has given us the go-ahead. When our teams go out in the future, they will have credibility and will be seen as 100% professionally competent.

South Asia is among the most climate vulnerable regions in the world. Do you see India playing a leading role as a first-responder to climate-related emergencies in the neighbourhood?

Climate change is causing more disasters to happen, and the data suggests that we are one of the most disaster prone areas in the world. I feel the NDRF can get pulled into more and more situations and we need to be more competent to handle them. That’s because no country can cope with natural disasters purely on their own resources. For example, during Hurricane Katrina in the US, 140 countries came to help America. The US is a superpower but they still got help. In that context, with India acquiring more comprehensive national power and stature, we should have a role where we can competently and instantly help out in those situations. India’s participation will grow and NDRF will be the point edge of India’s response.

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Published: 26 Feb 2023, 11:31 PM IST
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