India’s Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Joint Exercise on Urban Earthquake Search & Rescue (SCOJtEx-2019) at the Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi today.
The exercise spanning four days (4-7 November) is hosted by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in which all 8 member countries of the SCO are participating, including Pakistan. It will be conducted as per the procedures laid out by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).
The core objective of the exercise is to test collective regional preparedness and resilience for disaster relief. Observers from Asian Coordination Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA), Brazil, Mongolia and South Africa will also be part of the exercise, as observers.
The idea of hosting SCOJtEx-2019 in India was proposed by then Indian Home Minister (incumbent Defence Minister) Rajnath Singh in the 9th meeting of the Heads of Departments of disaster prevention in SCO countries held at Kyrgyzstan in August 2017.
Subsequently, a preparatory meeting was held in October 2018 in which Syed Haider Shah (then Acting High Commissioner of Pakistan in New Delhi) and Ilyas Mehmood Nizami (Political Counsellor at Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi) participated.
Later in February 2019, a 3-day Joint EXCON Meeting Cum Training was held in New Delhi. In this meeting, Ilyas Mehmood Nizami (Political Counsellor at Pak High Commission in New Delhi) was the only participant.
The detailed exercise scenario is as follows: an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale strikes the National Capital Region (NCR)/Delhi having epicentre in Uttarakhand and also impacting areas of Haryana and Rajasthan states. Foreign help is consequently sought after assessing the damage. SCO member states are welcomed to assist in damage assessments, INSARAG markings, Search And Rescue (SAR) activities and provision of timely medical aid.
The fictional scenario involving Pakistani delegation’s efforts involves arrival at the Provisional On-Site Operational Coordination Centre (OSOCC) to work on a multi-storey commercial building in Sant Nagar Pitampura, North Delhi bearing coordinates 28°41’17.9″N 77°07’53.4″E:-
In light of developments post the Pakistan-India standoff, and more recently the illegal annexation of IOJ&K into “Union Territories” of J&K and Leh, it is unclear whether Pakistan will participate.
Despite repeated efforts to contact the Media Wing at NDMA (Pakistan) for comment, calls on the given landline number were not received. Furthermore, the composition of Pakistani delegation/contingent to New Delhi, if at all it went there, remains unclear.
Mainstream Pakistani media including the NDMA’s official online forums are silent on the issue. Further details and documents related to SCOJtEx-2019 can be accessed on its official website here.