Disasters and the Aviation Factor

Commentary | August 26, 2010

Writing for The News, EWI board member Ikram Sehgal discusses the importance of disaster relief in light of the floods in Pakistan, and more specifically, the significance of aviation and air power.

In a detailed account of Pakistan’s previous natural disasters, Sehgal analyzes the importance of helicopters, and the high cost of not having enough of these transport vehicles.  Sehgal opens his piece with a discussion of the 1970 cyclone that hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, killing 300,000 people.  “The immediate need was helicopters (and more helicopters), followed by boats of all kind,” states Sehgal.

In a description of the necessary disaster relief for the earthquake of 2005, Sehgal explains that accessibility is a critical factor in effective and efficient aid: “The prime factors were simplicity of planning, cutting across red tape, effective implementation, plenty of flexibility and above all, accessibility.”  In the past, 50 per cent of the air powered disaster relief has come from international forces, which sends a negative signal to the citizens of Pakistan about their country’s internal efforts.  “The shortage of helicopters reinforced the adverse perception, both among the intelligentsia and the masses in East Pakistan, of indifference towards them in the face of catastrophic tragedy,” Sehgal writes.

The negative repercussions of a government’s inability to react quickly to natural disasters has larger effects on the country overall.  “That had grave political repercussions, affecting the general elections only 20 days later and one (if not the prime) catalysts leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh a year later,” Sehgal says.

In the case of natural disasters such as the current one, the cost of additional air power is far less than the number of lives lost.  “The human cost of not having more helicopters is far too expensive for us to morally sustain,” Sehgal concludes.

Click here to read Sehgal’s piece in The News.