A crucial contribution

Published : Jan 28, 2005 00:00 IST

The rescue-and-relief effort undertaken by the Indian defence forces in the entire South and South-East Asian region has been stupendous.

THE considerable expertise in disaster management accumulated over the years by the Indian armed forces came in handy in the wake of the tsunami. All the three services rushed with help, not only to Indians but also to the tens of thousands of victims in neighbouring countries.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy were quick to respond as soon as the magnitude of the crisis became apparent. Aircraft such as Il-76s and AN-32s were requisitioned immediately to transport desperately needed supplies to the affected areas.

The public sector airline companies, Indian Airlines and Alliance Air, also contributed in their own way, cancelling many of their commercial flights and using their fleet to ferry relief materials and to help stranded passengers and injured tsunami victims in the Andaman and Nicobar islands reach the mainland.

Air Force helicopters, especially the Mi-8s and the Mi-17s, proved invaluable in dropping supplies to remote areas and rescuing marooned people. In some areas, the IAF used drones to assess damage and loss of life. Four aircraft delivered six tonnes of relief material to the Maldives. Two ships were sent with potable water to the islands. The Navy has set up a Maritime Coordination Centre for the government of the Maldives in the capital Male.

Another Navy ship with water purification facilities was sent to Male. Interestingly, two ships from the Pakistan Navy were also in Male at the same time, helping the ravaged island republic get back on its feet. It is after a long time that the navies of the two countries have worked together in a third country, to provide humanitarian relief.

Four Indian Navy ships were despatched to Sri Lanka with seven helicopters on board. Their destinations were the badly hit port cities of Galle and Trincomalee. Six Mi-17 helicopters and an Il-76 landed in Colombo in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami. Indian naval ships and patrol vessels have also been busy clearing up the clogged Sri Lankan ports. The chief of the Integrated Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Raman Puri, said that the port of Galle had been cleared of debris and was open for operations. Complete field hospitals were airlifted to Colombo and some of the ships were converted into hospitals.

India lent a helping hand to the Indonesian government as it struggled to handle the gargantuan tragedy Although the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which also suffered badly, needed help, a Navy hospital ship was despatched to Banda Aceh and a relief team to Meulaboh, the town worst affected by the tsunami. Another naval ship was sent from Chennai with relief materials comprising tents, blankets, emergency rations and medical supplies.

The Tri-Services Integrated National Command Post in New Delhi has been busy coordinating the Indian government's biggest relief and rehabilitation activity in recent times. A substantial amount of the relief work in the affected areas in the south has been completed. The focus is now mainly on rehabilitation, especially in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The Navy has converted the INS Magar into a 140-bed floating hospital. More than 8,500 Army troops have been deployed for this work. Naval and Air Force personnel are also lending a helping hand. The Integrated Defence Staff is coordinating five simultaneous relief operations by the armed forces. They are Operation Seawaves (Andamans), Operation Madad (Indian east coast), Operation Rainbow (Sri Lanka) and Operation Gambhir (Indonesia). A Unified Relief Command has been set up in Port Blair. The mobilisation of men, material and machinery continues on a war footing. Heavy machinery is on its way to the Andamans to restore the badly damaged communications infrastructure.

The IAF had moved more than 16,000 litres of its aviation fuel to the Andaman and Nicobar islands so as to keep the relief and rehabilitation activities on the island going. The top priority of the IAF was to restore its air base in Nicobar. Around 100 people had lost their lives when the tsunami lashed the base. They included IAF personnel and their family members. A fresh batch of 130 personnel has been sent to the Carnic air base to replace the old team.

According to Indian defence officials, the IAF until the second week of January had distributed more than 5,000 tonnes of relief materials using seven Il-76 transport aircraft, eight Mi-8 helicopters, eight Mi-17 helicopters and 15 AN-32 medium-range transporters.

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