Disaster management SOPs of the past not effective in pandemic, need changes: Army Chief

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In the backdrop of the pandemic, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) of disaster management, which have worked in the past, are no longer effective and would need transformative changes, Chief of Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane said on Monday.

Gen Naravane was delivering the keynote address through video conferencing on the first day of PANEX-21 — the multilateral and multi-agency exercise of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectoral-Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries focusing on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR). The three-day exercise is being held at the College of Military Engineering (CME) in Pune. Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is slated to witness the exercise on Tuesday.

Referring to the last edition of the exercise, which was conducted in February 2020, which were the early days of the pandemic, Gen Naravane said, “A lot has changed since then. The devastating powers of the pandemic have been witnessed and acknowledged across the globe. We have realised that our standard operating procedures which have worked well in the past are no longer effective and would need transformative changes.”

He added: “We have come to realise that resource preservation in times of pandemic is as challenging as resource acquisition for disaster management. It has become incumbent on response teams to first protect themselves before they are able to assist others. We have also come to accept that no single agency has the capability or the capacity to handle the challenge alone.”

The structure of PANEX-21 as a multi-agency exercise includes representation of experts from the Armed Forces, National Disaster Relief Force and other stakeholders.

The Army Chief further said in his address, “We have drawn important lessons from our experiences over the past two years. PANEX-21 is, therefore, unique, in that that it is for the first time that an exercise of this magnitude has been undertaken to review HADR mechanism and streamline our response strategy in the backdrop of the pandemic. The fact that the pandemic is not over but continues to rage albeit with varying intensity and new variants has added realism to the conduct of this exercise.”

General Naravane added, “BIMSTEC constitutes a contiguous regional entity. It establishes and reinforces a unique bridge in South and South East Asia. We have common challenges and shared destinies. The region is prone to a range of natural hazards, including floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquake, landslides and tsunami. We have witnessed a rising frequency of disasters with more intense and catastrophic events. Our response strategies have also evolved.

Aided by rapid improvements in technologies, our disaster response mechanisms have become more robust and resilient.
Transnational cooperation between BIMSTEC nations continues to be driven by these common and shared challenges.”

He added: “The pandemic, however, has been a Black Swan event. It has overwhelmed national capacities, disrupted supply chains and brought us back to the drawing board. Disaster management in the backdrop of pandemic is a reality and major challenge today and this forms the basic theme of the PANEX-21.”

The seminar on the first day was divided in three plenary sessions, each moderated and addressed by renowned experts and domain specialists in the field of disaster relief and pandemic management. Subject matter experts like Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, and Dr VK Paul, NITI Aayog, among others attended the meet. The inaugural address was delivered by Southern Army Commander Lt Gen JS Nain.

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