Coastal Challenges and Resilience

Sub Title : With a vast coastline, the Indian peninsula faces myriad natural threats similar to littoral states

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 4 Sep – Oct 2023

Author : Rajendra Singh

Page No. : 34

Category : Military Affairs

: September 22, 2023

India’s coastal regions are grappling with challenges like urbanization, coastal erosion, environmental degradation, and the need for enhanced disaster response systems. Meanwhile, high sea infrastructures face threats from climate-induced extreme events, underscoring the indispensable role of the armed forces in disaster management.

Intense cyclones such as the recent Biparjoy, Taukte, Amphan, Fani, Gaja and Hudhud as well as severe floods have caused massive devastation to its coastal states, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, respectively. While efficient disaster preparedness in many of these states has helped save many lives, there remain significant challenges in rebuilding damaged infrastructure and returning to normalcy after the disruptions. Few of the challenges affecting the coastal states are as follows;-

(a)  Urbanization and the rapid growth of coastal cities placing growing demands on coastal resources as well as increasing people’s exposure to coastal hazards.

(b) Coastal Erosion has a long-term impact on the economy and NCCR report states that, approximately, 32 percent of India’s coastline underwent sea erosion. Such coastal erosion does impact coastal communities residing in the erosion prone areas, including fishermen communities. Therefore, coastal zone management is a very challenging issues for most of the State Government.

(c) Environmental degradation such as destruction of mangroves alongwith pollution are considered serious threat. Coral reefs, mangroves, tidal mudflats, seagrass beds, and salt marshes are some of the fragile habitats along the coastline contribute to the protection of the coast and coastal communities.

(d) The most important challenge is to strengthen and capacity building of SDRF, which would play an important role in sustainable development of disaster prone areas. Being familiarised with the terrain, critical buildings and other existing infrastructure for prompt responses at the time of disasters and simultaneously work with the community, including school children, village volunteers and other stakeholders on what to do during disasters.

Threat to Critical National Infrastructure at High Seas

National infrastructure at high seas is not just about oil, but about people and assets created for wealth generation for national development. Critical infrastructures constitute the backbone of the functioning of our modern and interconnected societies. The disruption of telecommunication services, water or energy supply, transportation or financing systems can cause significant harm to the well-being of citizens and incur adverse economic effects that resonate beyond the directly affected area. Therefore, the safety of these systems is very important to ensuring resilience of their operations The incidence of extreme weather events has been increasing due to climate change and increased number of cyclones & earthquakes in the region. Therefore, the Offshore oil & gas activity subjected to extreme weather events and destructive seismic activity are resulting in loss of life and damage to environment, affecting other industries like fishing, tourism and marine ecosystem. This vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure to this range of hazards and threats call for increased attention to critical infrastructure security and resilience. Disaster risks, compounded by climate change, present a set of challenges for infrastructure resilience.

Role of the Armed Forces

Disaster management is a continuous and integrated process involving many stakeholders working together. The armed forces of India, always become the first choice of any state civil authorities and have an important role to play in managing disasters and restoring essential services like water, communication connectivity and power supply. On account of their vast potential to meet any adverse challenge, speed of operational response and the resources and capabilities at their disposal, the armed forces have been playing a major role in emergency support functions. The Armed forces whose organisational resilience, leadership, national presence and logistic capabilities makes them preferred partner for assisting state Govt in the time for response. Maritime disasters demand swift, enduring, and comprehensive preparedness. Such calamities typically necessitate a myriad of interventions including Maritime Assistance at Sea (MAS), Search and Rescue (SAR), fire management, oil spill mitigation, salvage, and lightning response. A recent testament to this was in May 2021 when the Indian Navy and Coast Guard valiantly rescued 314 individuals from two barges adrift near Mumbai, right ahead of Cyclone Tauktae’s wrath. In separate incidents, the Indian Coast Guard collaborated with Sri Lankan authorities to combat fires on VLCC MT New Diamond (loaded with 3 lakh MT of crude oil) and Container Carrier MV X-Press Pearl, preventing potential ecological catastrophes. Moreover, during the 2004 Tsunami, Indian armed forces orchestrated one of the most expansive peacetime relief efforts, spanning not just within India but also in countries like the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Leveraging naval ships, helicopters, and aircraft, essentials such as food, clean water, medical aid, sanitation, and shelter were promptly delivered