Valuable lessons learnt in KZN Op Chariot deployment

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Looking back at the devastating KwaZulu-Natal floods and the contribution made particularly by the SA Army Engineer Formation, the colonel who commanded Joint Operations Headquarters for the duration of the Operation Chariot deployment reflects on what was done and lessons learnt.

This particular activation of the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) standing humanitarian assistance operation was done in April in the wake of torrential rain, with widespread damage caused to infrastructure by the resulting floods.

Colonel Arthius Nyalunga points out the SA Air Force (SAAF) was the first national defence force component in the theatre of operations.

“The air force came in to support the SA Police Service (SAPS) with search and rescue missions, which unfortunately later became body recovery missions. They were located at Virginia Airport, north of Durban. Over the course of three months, more than 400 bodies were recovered by teams from the air force, police and Gift of the Givers who worked 16 hours, seven days a week.”

Assessment of affected areas boosted by declaration of a national disaster saw a call for a larger response effort from the SANDF to augment efforts of government at local, provincial and national level as well as civilian and tribal community-based organisations. This led to mobilisation of 10 000 SANDF personnel earmarked for deployment in the coastal province.

“Thousands of troops were projected setting up camp from the north to the south of Durban and elsewhere immediately starting to clear roads, distribute food, water and other vital supplies, as well as strengthen local security forces.

“The lead agent in a natural disaster is obviously not the SANDF, but the manpower, equipment, training and co-ordination necessary to efficiently respond to relief efforts falls within its expertise. This operation provided the SANDF with an important opportunity to deepen experience and knowledge on what is required during a disaster as well as strengthening civil/military/SAPS co-operation and inter-operability. The reality is we all have to become au fait with is there will be another natural disaster and it should find us better prepared.

“During execution of this operation deficiencies with plans and processes were picked up,” Nyalunga reports, adding these “will be addressed and remedied to offer better response, saving lives and alleviating suffering”.

The actual purpose in mind when the deployment began was to deliver what the General Officer Commanding of the Joint Operations Headquarters, Major General Sandile Hlongwa termed ‘quick impact ‘projects’.

“During this operation, many successes were recorded and I hope our soldiers are proud of the contribution they made to the well-being of the province and country. These ranged from water deliveries to bridge/road repairs. In addition to physical work, soldiers donated from personal funds and belongings,” Nyalunga writes with an apt comment to close.

“Whatever is listed makes me proud to be a soldier in the SANDF.”