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Odisha as an example for cyclone response:
- Odisha had gained international recognition for its swift response during the recent major cyclonic events such as the Cyclone Phailin in 2012 and Cyclone Fani in 2019.
- The state learnt its lessons from the damage inflicted by the super-cyclone in 1999. In its aftermath, the government undertook large-scale evacuation drives.
- The Odisha government claimed to have evacuated over a million people during the Phailin and Fani cyclones. These evacuation drives are considered to be the main reason behind the low death count.
What are the gaps in the current approach?
- One of the major gaps in the current approach is the over-emphasis on the total number of evacuees.
- In case of a major cyclone, the main cause of destruction is the extent of storm surges. This extent depends on the cyclone’s intensity, the region’s topography and the occurrence of high tides.
- Horizontal evacuation is essential in areas which are likely to experience the maximum storm surge. This means that such an area’s residents are to be moved away and the area must be completely secured. This is because, surges of significant height pose threat even to the structurally designed cyclone shelters and multi-storied concrete buildings.
- However, the threat from such surges is conflated by high wind speeds. This is evident from the evacuation experiences of Odisha. Hence similar attention is given to all regions- coastal or interior– that the cyclone is likely to pass through.
- The gap in conception would become costly if a significant storm surge ends up impacting an area where only the residents of low lying areas or those in kuchha or semi-concrete houses are evacuated.
- Another gap is the inadequate attention paid to other facets of disaster response, such as:
- Assistance for quick harvest of crops
- Steps to reduce crop damage
- Timely and adequate relief and distribution of assistance in the post-cyclone period. eg: assistance for damaged houses.
- Cyclone Jawad struck the east coast when the crops in the region are nearing the harvest stage. The news of incoming cyclone had triggered premature harvests and distress sale by farmers.
- There is only limited discussions on the quantity and quality of the relief distributed in the cyclones’ aftermath. Eg: in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani, the power supply in Puri was disrupted for a very long.
- Another area where unreasonable delays occur are in distribution of financial assistance for house reconstruction.
What is the way ahead?
- Our strategy has worked during the past cyclones only because the tidal surges have been limited. If a 1999 super-cyclone like event, with 20 km tidal inundation, were to occur again, the current strategy would be grossly insufficient.
- In countries like Australia and the USA, the most vulnerable zones are identified and mapped. No one, except the emergency personnel, are allowed in such areas during a cyclonic event.
- The governments could consider specific assistance options, apart from fore-warnings, for the agriculture community. These could include mechanized harvesting during weather emergencies.
- The states should also pay attention to the other aspects of post-disaster rehabilitation such as power supply restoration and reconstruction of housing.
Given the changes in the pattern of cyclone seasons and the increase in frequency of extreme weather events, it is crucial that India looks at cyclone risk management as more than just the number of people evacuated.