India should accept disaster aid

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It has been a few weeks since floods inundated Jammu and Kashmir, and the disaster response has not been equal to the needs. Millions of victims, including dozens of my relatives, continue to subsist in a state of desperation. Diseases are spreading and the damage to property is estimated at more than $1 billion. In a few weeks, the Himalayan winter will set in, complicating relief efforts and putting more of those affected at further risk.
The United Nations has offered its support and expertise. But India has not accepted, because it has a policy of not accepting international disaster aid. This policy must change immediately.
The policy is grounded in the idea that India can take care of its own. But that’s not the case, as events in Jammu and Kashmir show.
Meanwhile, India has repeatedly provided aid to others, including to the United States (Hurricane Katrina, 2005), China (earthquake, 2008), and Japan (earthquake and Fukushima nuclear incident, 2011).
The suggestion is sometimes made that because of the geopolitical context around Jammu and Kashmir — the state is the subject of a decades-long territorial dispute that involves both Pakistan and China — India cannot allow any international involvement. But international humanitarian aid should not be equated with geopolitical meddling.
India has not gained from its current disaster aid policy and its people have suffered because of it. India should:
• Accept the UN offer of assistance.
• Accept aid offered by friendly countries, including the United States’ offer of aid.
• Facilitate the entry of, and work (without restrictions) by, international aid organizations interested in participating in such efforts. Direct all Indian consulates to support the same.
• Proactively seek out the support of other friendly nations and the involvement of international aid organizations.
• Direct the Indian ambassador to the US, Dr. S. Jaishankar, to facilitate and expedite the transportation of relief supplies from the US.
• Direct Indian customs authorities to expedite the processing of relief supplies destined for Jammu and Kashmir.
No country has the capacity to adequately deal with large-scale disasters on its own. Only by facilitating the involvement of the international community can India begin to truly take care of those affected by the floods. The resources and expertise of concerned nations and competent international organizations are required to provide adequate shelter, essential goods, basic infrastructure and proper health care before diseases spread and winter arrives. For the sake of the victims of the floods, India cannot afford to continue to compromise the disaster response.

Author Imraan Mir
Imraan Mir is an attorney who lives in Cambridge

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