Noting that the coronavirus pandemic is not yet over, Army chief General M M Naravane on Monday said the outbreak of COVID-19 has taught everyone many lessons and disaster management in the backdrop of the pandemic is a reality and a major challenge.
He also highlighted the importance of global and regional cooperation while tackling any pandemic-like situation.
He was speaking at the inauguration of PANEX-21, a trans-national, multi-agency exercise organised in Pune from December 20 to 22 with a focused aim to "foster jointness and develop capabilities in disaster management aspects for the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations".
The Army chief said the fact is that the pandemic is not over as new variants have added realism to the conduct of this exercise.
The South Asian region is prone to a large range of natural hazards, including floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunami, he noted.
"Rapidly growing unplanned urbanisation, ecological degradation, and corresponding climate change effects and dynamically varying socio-economic conditions have increased our exposure to various natural hazards," he said.
All have witnessed the rising frequency of disasters with more intense and catastrophic events, he pointed out.
"Our response strategies have also evolved, added by rapid improvements in technology have become more robust and resilient. Trans-national cooperation between BIMSTEC nations continues to be driven by common and shared challenges," he said.
The pandemic has overwhelmed the national capacity, disrupted the supply chain, and brought everyone back to the drawing board, he said.
"Disaster management in the backdrop of the pandemic, is a reality and a major challenge and this also forms a basic theme of PANEX-21," he said.
The earlier exercise was conducted in February 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, General Naravane said.
"A lot has changed since then. The devastating effects of the pandemic have been witnessed and acknowledged by the world. We have realised that our standard operating procedures which worked well in the past are no longer active and we would need transformative changes," he said.
It was realised that resource preservation in the times of pandemic is as challenging as an application for disaster management, the Army chief said.
He said it has become incumbent for the response teams to first protect themselves before being able to assess others.
"We have also come to accept that no single agency has the capability or capacity to handle the challenge on their own. Not only that, such has been the strain on the resources that even well-developed countries with modern infrastructure have looked beyond for aid and assistance," he said.
PANEX-21 is unique as it is for the first time the exercise of this magnitude has been undertaken to review the mechanism and streamline the response strategy in the backdrop of pandemics, he said.
The BIMSTEC regional organisation comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, besides India.
General Naravane said the outspread of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world has taught everyone many lessons in terms of preventive control, mitigation strategy and protocols.
"We all have witnessed in the recent past the massive disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic since the end of 2019 in the entire world and which is still causing havoc in many countries," he said.
"India has already seen its worse effects during the second wave in April-May 2021, during which we lost a lot of precious lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has, indeed, congressed the world community together to tackle the challenges and to mitigate at the earliest," he said.
The development of various vaccines and vaccination drives to inoculate citizens at the earliest is a major step in this regard, he noted.
"The outbreak of the pandemic also witnessed the world community rising to the circumstances with incredible and farfetched levels of not only cooperation amongst each other, but also garnering support to provide assistance in terms of medicines and other administrative requirements of the affected states during these testing times," he said.
General Naravane said the country is well-versed that a natural disaster will not wait for the pandemic situation to subside.
"Moreover, a dual disaster is a current reality that we must be prepared for, so as to mitigate its impact on our populations. Therefore, the importance of trans-national cooperation to gain regional cooperation on this is imperative. BIMSTEC is such a group of member nations which share many commonalities and have been involved culturally & economically since many years," he said.
He said equally important in all this is the industry that adapted and responded to new requirements through innovative solutions.
Noting that the industry has been an important stakeholder, he said, "The Indian industry is supported by policy initiative of the government as we are on the growth curve in the recent years. Cost-effect technological solutions and disaster management strategies would act as a force multiplier."
"Considering the contemporary environment and the challenge at the present, PANEX 21 has been conceptualised as a three-stage exercise. The first is this seminar, which will provide an opportunity to brain-stormed relevant issues, crystalize our thoughts deliberately," he said.