Using Hovercraft for Humanitarian Disaster Relief: 2010 Pakistan Floods

“People clustered around and although it was clear that many were sick it was equally clear that what they really needed was food”

As you move towards the heart of disaster zones to provide humanitarian aid, the risk to human lives inevitably increases commensurately with the complexity of organising the logistics to respond with life support in often devastated area.

In 2010 the unprecedented floods in Pakistan were caused by a climatically extreme annual monsoon in the Indus River Basin. Affecting an estimated 20 million people over an area the size of England, Pakistan faced one of the worst humanitarian situa-tions the country had ever seen. The vast amounts of water overran flood defences whilst ripping up roads and transport networks, leaving pockets of isolated individuals scattered across the uncharted, debris filled flood zone.

The frequency of climatic extreme weather events globally is increasing, and in addition to man made disasters, larger popu-lations across the international community are being affected. The predictions indicate that the frequency and severity will continue to rise. Taking action to build affordable, capable and readily deployable capacity to respond for the distribution of the life saving supplies and resources available to governments is now crucial.

Helicopters have the ability to fly over the troubled environ-ment and have been the traditional mainstay for response but their availability is low and their costs and high level of servicing and maintenance to be safely operated can create practical limi-tations. The paucity and safety of landing sites can reduce the geographical precision of the response and their relatively low payloads limit their ability to meet the logistic requirements of responders who are often not able to get physically close enough to those in need with a sufficient and timely delivery of vital resources.

For robust disaster relief high volumes of supplies measured in tonnes rather than kilos must be delivered directly where it is needed when it is needed, taking the most direct route regard-less of debris and destruction. The limitations of helicopters needs to be augmented by more cost-effective vehicles that offer mass aid delivery and have a good ability to pass over sur-face and sub-surface destruction.

Having purchased a series of 2000TD hovercraft from Griffon, Pakistan was positioned to provide the much-needed relief the population was desperately waiting for. With 2 tonnes of pay-load hovering over the fast-flowing and debris strewn flood water, at speeds of up to 34 knots these craft provided the vital link between the help and the helpless. Commenting on her experience in 2010, journalist Jane Corbin noted how in the flooded streets where hidden hazards would snag boat propel-lers or hulls, hovercraft "travelled the area by the only means possible... no helicopter could land there either" over power-lines and other debris. Travelling along with a doctor, the craft "landed on a patch of exposed ground, people clustered around and although it was clear that many were sick it was equally clear that what they really needed was food".

By having hovercraft, the government responded in a faster, more direct and more effective way than would have been pos-sible without. However, due to the sheer scale of this disaster the level of damage caused on the country meant learning from this event was key to be ready for other challenges of this mag-nitude.

Since the 2010 floods, in 2014, Griffon supplied two larger 10 Tonne payload, vehicle carrying 8100TDs to Pakistan increasing their versatile amphibious response capability for the future.

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