India’s quick response to the earthquake in Nepal has been in step with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declared intention of giving priority to healthy relations with our immediate neighbours. Mr Modi’s offer of support, material as well as emotional, should create a precedent in the region, which has countries friendly as well as not so friendly towards one another. That Nepal was the third country Mr Modi visited as prime minister is relevant here. Sending 13 aircraft, six helicopters and teams to perform rescue and medical operations was indeed a prompt initial gesture and Mr Modi has promised to offer more as and when the need arises.
Disasters have a way of reminding people and governments that in the event of natural calamities both are extremely fragile. When the Gujarat earthquake took place in January 2001, the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, called the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and offered relief. Similarly when there was an earthquake in the Pakistan side of Kashmir four and a half years later, India was willing to help Pakistan. Hence seeing their own vulnerability at the hands of earthquakes, floods, storms, cloudbursts and the like, nations should be able to put aside all differences and work together. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) has a disaster control cell, which has largely been a dormant body. Why can’t this occasion be used to give it more teeth and make it a fully functioning organ? With geo-climatic changes the need for such a body will be felt even more. India has a 7,500-km-long coastline, making fishing communities highly vulnerable whenever there is a cyclone. Bangladesh is often prey to storms and floods. None of the other countries in Saarc is on safe ground, either. Disaster management should be on the agenda of every Saarc summit, along with trade and investment.
Given India’s vast size, it has had the experience of more natural calamities than any other at least in South Asia. Though a bit late in the day, Parliament enacted the Disaster Management Act in 2005, creating a National Disaster Management Authority and a National Disaster Response Force, comprising battalions of a few paramilitary outfits. A beginning can be made by sending teams of this outfit to other Saarc nations to build similar organisations there. If there can be banks and sport bodies through the joint initiatives of several nations, why not one for disaster containment?