Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Humanitarian Military: An Oxymoron?

It almost seems like an oxymoron- a military that delivers humanitarian aid? What sort of world do we live in? However, one of the things many militaries do, around the world and across state types is send in the military as a response to a humanitarian disaster.

This is exactly what the US, Canada, and India are currently doing to respond to the earthquake in Nepal. A US military plane departed for Nepal with 70 people and 45 tons of cargo on board on April 26th. All of these personnel were not military members, some were from a USAID disaster assistance response team. Canada's military Disaster Assistance Response Team was sent to help.  India sent 13 planes filled with supplies and disaster management specialists. Specifically, the Inidian planes carried 3 army field hospitals. Even the Nepalese troops are involved in search and rescue, with Nepal claiming that 9 out of 10 soldiers were focusing on the earthquake. A further collection of who is sending what is available here. In fact, reading through that you are struck my the list- it is almost entirely military personnel and equipment flowing in- even most of the doctors are military doctors.
The Nepalese government's Chief Secretary, Lila Mani Poudyal, said his country was short of medical teams and relief materials, including "tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses and 80 different medicines".(BBC)
So why is this? As The New York Times reports- Nepal had only one big helicopter in a "poor, near-roadless, mountainous land." Is it because the military is the arm of the government who is most able to respond quickly? Are they the only ones who are capable of responding to such a disaster? While some of the equipment is there to evacuate their respective countries citizens, most is meant to stay and help the Nepalese.

The answer in part is "yes" to all of the above questions. The military, in most countries, is the most able to respond quickly. They also have some of the best trained in field medicine and disaster response. Some even argue that there is an expectation that military units will assist civilian population in immediate aftermath. In some part this assistance is purely logistical. The military has the training and supplies to provide this support. And the civilian government often wants the military's experience in maintaining communication and authority in difficult situations.

Also, the governments who send military aid face an increase in political capital internationally. If a country doesn't launch a response that the world sees as related to its status in the world- it will face criticism for a lack of response. Further the UN even has a Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) which facilitates dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors that helps to facilitate coordination and humanitarian response.

There can be negatives to large amounts of aid pouring into a country (see Haiti post earthquake), thus the military humanitarian aid has the potential to be a source of quality, quick, responsive aid to the needs of the population. Rather than an oxymoron, people should be asking why don't they do more?

Want to donate to Nepal? Look here for reputable organizations.

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