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Russell Watkins/DFID

Chapter 4 Partnerships, governance and stakeholders

Military involvement in disaster reduction

Photo: Russell Watkins/DFID

In most countries, armed forces personnel, equipment, transport and other facilities are called upon to support emergency services during disasters. They may take a prominent role in response to major disasters – for example the earthquakes in Pakistan in 2005 and China in 2008 – especially if civil authorities are overwhelmed. Military engineers have sometimes been involved in risk reduction, usually by putting up structural mitigation measures, such as flood embankments. Many disaster management organisations originated in civil defence, while many civil protection/civil defence institutions have military links (which has led to an often uneasy relationship between disaster planners and civil defence agencies).

Civil society tends to be wary of the military’s motives in relief assistance and mitigation work, especially in countries where the armed forces have a history of interference in domestic politics. The military’s command-and-control approach also goes against modern risk management philosophy, which stresses coordination, participation and partnership. However, since the military clearly can play a role, and has considerable capacity, greater dialogue and collaboration are needed. For example, civilian agencies could benefit from military expertise in contingency planning and the development of scenarios and training exercises. Joint contingency planning and development of emergency coordination mechanisms can improve disaster preparedness capabilities, as well as building mutual understanding and trust.+E. Ferris, Future Directions in Civil–Military Responses to Natural Disasters, Australian Civil–Military Centre, 2012, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2012/5/civ%20mil%20disasters%20ferris/05%20civ%20mil%20disasters%20ferris.pdf.