BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise 2020

Natural hazards transcend national boundaries. So do disasters. This is even truer for nations which share common geological formations and river basins. One such group of nations is the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka Myanmar and Thailand.

The region is home to about 1.5 billion people which is roughly around 22 per cent of the global population. It has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$ 2.7 trillion. As the region is exposed to a variety of hazards, it is imperative that these countries come together to reduce their disaster risks.

Eighty delegates from five-member nations - India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar - came together for the second annual BIMSTEC disaster management exercise in February 2020. The three-day exercise on flood rescue was conducted by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) as the lead agency from February 11-13, 2020 in Puri, Odisha.

Inaugurating the exercise, Minister of State for Home Affairs Shri Nityanand Rai highlighted the historicity and diversity of cultural heritage sites in the BIMSTEC region. This exercise will provide a platform for member states to evaluate existing capabilities, share best emergency response practices, improve existing emergency preparedness and strengthen regional response mechanism and also to conduct risk assessment in the context of cultural heritage sites at the time of disaster, he said.

Simulated exercise sites were set up at the Ramachandi Beach, nearby villages and the  Konark Sun Temple to depict flooded localities in the aftermath of a cyclone followed by heavy rainfall. Dummy multi-storeyed buildings and several houses were erected with marooned persons and livestock.

A Communication Centre, Emergency Operation Centre (EOC), Base of Operation, Medical Camp, Facilitation Centre, Media Enclave, etc. were established as per the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) guidelines. Rescue teams conducted a highly synchronised heli-borne operation using the latest flood rescue gadgets/equipment, improvised rafts and locally available resources to demonstrate the coordination among various stakeholders. 

The exercise provided an opportunity to share the best practices being followed by the participating countries while responding to a situation in heritage sites affected by the disaster.

International observers from International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), INSARAG, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and National observers from Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)  also attended the exercise. Senior Officials from BIMSTEC Secretariat, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, NDMA, NDRF, Animal Quarantine and Certification Services (AQCS), India Meteorological Department (IMD), Central Water Commission (CWC) and State governments attended the exercise.

At the 'After Action Review' (AAR), conducted on the last day of the exercise, lessons learnt which would assist the countries to augment disaster response and coordination were discussed. Delegates also emphasized upon the need of cooperation amongst member nations for the conservation of heritage sites.

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