Indian Armed Forces rapidly deploy to assist flood victims in Kerala

Indian Armed Forces rapidly deploy to assist flood victims in Kerala

Mandeep Singh

When torrential monsoon rains poured down on India causing devastating floods in the second and third weeks of August 2018, the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) rushed in to help.

The IAF deployed 23 helicopters and 11 transport aircraft to Kerala, the hardest-hit state in the country’s Southwest, along with over 100 Navy, Army and Coast Guard boats with diving teams. (Pictured: An Indian Navy team airlifts people to safety in Kerala on August 17, 2018). IAF also provided relief supplies, including food, life jackets and other protective gear.

More than 250 lives were lost in the state of Kerala. Some 200,000 Keralans were forced from their homes, and tens of thousands of hectares of crop land were devastated, according to Indian news agency PTI.

“We are prepared to meet any eventuality,” Lt. Gen. D R Soni, chief of the Army’s Southern Command, told reporters in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, on August 20, 2018. “There are 1,500 of us on the ground here from all over Southern Command. Now these are assembled in 70 teams, including engineers, infantry, medical and signalers.”

Working in tandem with India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the IAF deployed on August 9, 2018, to Kerala running Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Relief (HADR) missions, bringing aid to people affected by floods and landslides, reported India’s Ministry of Defense (MoD). NDRF teams and supplies were flown in on five An-32 IAF transport aircraft from Arakkonam, a city on the opposite coast.

The Indian Army deployed 10 flood relief columns of 65 personnel to 10 districts in Kerala, MoD said, along with 10 engineer task forces of 40 personnel from bases in the Indian cities of Jodhpur, Bhopal, Pune, Bangalore and Secunderabad.

Lt. Gen. Soni described his men motoring through flooded villages in rescue boats alerting residents by megaphone to the arrival of rescue and relief. Drones were also deployed, he added, but the heavy rains hindered their performance.

“My boys have built bridges from trees, and they have moved people out of the tougher areas,” he said. “Wherever we are required to help, for sure we will always be there.”

By August 17, 2018, HADR teams had performed over 3,500 rescues and provided medical aid to over 500 people, said MoD. In addition, they distributed thousands of meals and flotation devices.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by Kerala state officials, surveyed the damage to Kerala by plane on August 18, 2018, and pledged funds and reconstruction assistance.

HADR is central to the Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces. The IAF is expected to be prepared “to render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief” at home and abroad, according to the most recent edition of the doctrine from April 2017.

Since May 30, 2018, the IAF has been involved in nine other HADR missions, according to Indian defense analyst Abdul Junaid. These include: containing a large fire in a South Delhi neighborhood; rescuing three Israeli nationals whose vehicle had fallen into a gorge on the way to Rohtang Pass in the Himalayas; evacuating 38 Indian nationals stranded on the Yemeni island of Socotra in the aftermath of cyclone Mekenu, among others.

“I am so proud of being part of the Indian Army,” Lt. Gen. Soni said. “I only wish that we learn from all such calamities, and we, for sure, whatever were the shortcomings, will make sure that we will have everything that you need in every boat, in every team to make sure that whatever be the problem at the receiving end, we are able to meet the immediate requirement, get him to safety or get her to safety, where someone else will take over the responsibility of the relief.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.