Militaries around the world continue to be State's most disciplined and powerful arm – the state decides whether to flex the arm or use it to reach out during humanitarian emergencies. As Naval historian, Bruce Elleman put it across very aptly that in the nineteenth and most of the twentieth century, the very thought that sea powers might regularly use naval platforms to deliver humanitarian aid, as opposed to cutting off and starving enemy's supply lines, would have seemed alien. Today, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations form the core competency of professional naval forces world over.
The Indian Navy continues to play a defining role in humanitarian emergencies in the Indian Ocean Region. Blessed with a long coastline of 7516 km, the Indian subcontinent often bears the brunt of natural disasters like cyclones, floods and tsunami with 5700 km of this stretch being prone to such vagaries of nature.
The 2018 Kerala floods epitomised nature's fury when unprecedented rainfall over the southern state of India led to widespread flooding, killing 400 people and displacing 7,20,000 people- roughly equal to the population of Sikkim. As the state administration reached out to the Navy for search and rescue operations in low lying areas, the Southern Naval Command launched "Operation Madad". What started as a Search and Rescue Operation involving four diving teams with dinghies in Wayanad district soon turned in to largest HADR undertaken by Southern Naval Command. Operation Madad lasted over 16 days and covered five districts of Kerala. The Indian Navy rescued a total of 16,843 people, of which 1,173 were airlifted while 15,670 were rescued by teams using Gemini boats. Air assets of the Navy were extensively used for winching-up of stranded people, transfer of stores, boats and provision of relief material – especially food and water. Various aircrafts from Navy as well as Air Force including ALH, Seaking, Chetak were involved in the rescue mission. Over 800 kg relief materials consisting of one lakh food packets, along with bottled water and medicines were also airdropped. Around 950 people were accommodated in three relief camps run inside the naval premises. Community kitchens set up in the Cochin University campus by INS Venduruthy catered to 5000 people. As parts of state remained disconnected from rest of the country by road, rail and air, INS Deepak, the tanker from Western Fleet disembarked fresh provision, ready to eat meals and pouches of drinking water to augment the relief operations. INS Mysore and INS Sharda carried 70 tonnes of relief material and 15 tonnes of ration to provide succour to the relief agencies. Over 500 personnel were involved in Operation Madad. The Navy also provided assistance to flood affected regions of Kodagu in Karnataka.
The Indian Navy's 'Operation Nistar' in early June 2018 was launched to rescue 38 fishermen stranded in Socotra Island, Yemen. INS Sunayna, which was deployed in Western Arabian Sea, was diverted to rescue the stranded individuals after cyclone Mekunu battered parts of Oman and Socotra Island.
The Indian Navy's increasing involvement in HADR missions is a reminder that with growing coastal urbanisation, Indian Naval Ships and aircrafts are going to find themselves in the vicinity of disaster prone areas which will be opportunities to demonstrate New Delhi's diplomatic soft power. As disasters and humanitarian emergencies become more complex, the Indian Navy's humanitarian mission remains committed to providing critical life saving assistance, with the wisdom that in a humanitarian mission both the rescuer and the rescued are blessed.