Surviving Fani

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Context

In the aftermath of Cyclone Fani, one of the worst cyclones to hit India’s eastern coastline, Odisha has proved it is one of the most disaster-ready states in the world. Its management has emerged as a global example of how timely weather alerts, preparedness and informed public participation can dramatically reduce the loss of life.

In preparation for Cyclone Fani, which made landfall in the town of Puri, Odisha carried out ‘one of the biggest human evacuations in history,’ with more than a million people evacuated into 9,000 shelters in 24 hours.

Change from Past cyclones

13 million people were hit and half a million houses destroyed. The death toll in cyclone Fani on May 3 stood at 35 as per reports of the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC). In terms of material losses, several districts were battered, houses flattened and electricity and telecommunications infrastructure destroyed. The relatively low mortality shows a dramatic transformation from the super-cyclone 05B in 1999 claimed 10,000 lives in the state. Since then, the state has focused extensively on building the infrastructure and developing manpower and skills for disaster management and preparedness.

Preparedness during Fani

  • After the severe cyclonic storm Phalin strucked in 2013, Odisha worked to upgrade its preparedness.
  • More than 45,000 volunteers, 2,000 emergency workers, 100,000 officials, youth clubs, and other civil society organisations such as National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) agencies, teamed up to work around the clock to evacuate 1.2 million people.
  • Workers were equipped with satellite phones and inflatable boats along with food and medicines to distribute in the storm’s aftermath.
  • The preparation included sending three million targeted messages and setting up around 7,000 kitchens and 9,000 shelters. Cyclone Fani, which made landfall in Puri with wind speed of more than 200 km per hour and gusting speed of 240 km per hour, damaged critical infrastructure, especially power, telecom, and water supply.
  • Odisha’s efforts to evacuate and shelter millions of people to safety has won international praise. The United Nations and other experts have praised India for its early warning systems and rapid evacuation of more than a million people, which helped minimize the loss of life from a deadly cyclone that battered its eastern coast.

Mami Mizutori, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said,

“India’s zero casualty approach to managing extreme weather events is a major contribution to the implementation of the Sendai Framework (for disaster risk reduction) and the reduction of loss of life from such events.”

Role of IMD & ISRO

  • Early weather warnings hold the key to better management, and during the Fani episode the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) played a crucial role.
  • The United Nations agency for disaster reduction has commended the Indian Meteorological Department’s “almost pinpoint accuracy” of early warnings that helped authorities conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan and minimize the loss of life as extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani.
  • As meteorologists observed a trough of low in the southern Indian Ocean more than a week ago, five Indian satellites kept a constant eye on the system as it brewed into cyclone Fani. As it developed into an “extremely severe cyclone+ “, the satellites launched by Isro sent data every 15 minutes to the ground station, helping track and forecast its movement and save hundreds of lives.
  • According to IMD, data from satellites Insat-3D, Insat-3DR, Scatsat-1, Oceansat-2 and Megha Tropiques was used to study the intensity, location and cloud cover around Fani. There was a cloud cover around the eye of the storm up to 1000km radius, though the rain clouds were only up to a radius of 100 to 200km. The rest were at a height of around 10,000feet.

Measures to restore Odisha

  • Restoring Electricity and telecommunications – The top priority now in Odisha is to restore electricity and telecommunications, which will require massive manpower.
  • Health Interventions – This should be treated as a national mission. Public health interventions are paramount to avoid disease outbreaks.
  • Other measures – The State government has been able to restore some physical movement by opening up highways and district roads; the Centre has relieved tension among students by postponing the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test in Odisha.

Future prospect

  • Rebuilding infrastructure – The Odisha government and the Centre now have the task of rebuilding infrastructure.
  • Upgradation – They should use the opportunity to upgrade technology, achieve cost efficiencies and build resilience to extreme weather, all of which can minimise future losses.
  • Global Environment Funding – Given the vulnerability of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to cyclones, the frequency and intensity of which may be influenced by a changing climate, the Centre should press for global environmental funding under the UN framework to help in the rebuilding. Both States have received funding from the World Bank in cyclone risk mitigation efforts since 2011.
  • Building resilience – Looking ahead, India must prepare for many more intense and frequent cyclones along the coastal States.

Conclusioin 

  • Natural disaster management today has certainly become more effective with the aid of technology. Still, there’s no room for complacency. Preparedness has to focus on building resilience and strengthening adaptation. This can be achieved through better-designed houses and cyclone shelters, good early warning systems, periodic drills and financial risk reduction through insurance.
  • With extreme weather phenomena increasing due to climate change, there’s a need to constantly expand disaster management capacities. In fact, disaster management should become a critical component of all development projects. That’s the only way we won’t be caught unawares.

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Sources:

The Hindu

The Times of India

May 17, 2019

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