Lessons for future

Cyclone Phailin, which hit the Odisha and Andhra coats on Saturday, has left a trail of destruction but fortunately did not result in as many casualties as had been feared.

The 1999 super cyclone, to which it had been compared, had led to the death of about 10,000 people. This  time over 20 deaths have been reported. This is because of the loss of strength of the cyclone as it reached the coastal line and progressed and also because of the large-scale evacuation of people from the areas which were going to be hit. Nearly nine lakh people were shifted to safe shelters before the cyclone struck. This was the largest such effort in the country’s history.  Its organisation, implementation and success should guide similar efforts in future.

Along with the state police forces and other staff, defence and paramilitary personnel were also used to undertake the evacuation  and the rescue and relief efforts later. Timely anticipation of the cyclone and effective co-ordination among the various agencies helped to minimise the losses due to the cyclone. The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) predictions were fairly accurate. An important element in the success of the exercise was the efficient use of  technology and mass media by various agencies to co-ordinate their activities. The media was also extensively used to warn the people and to raise public awareness. Perhaps this is the first time that the wide reach of the media  was used most effectively to deal with a natural calamity of such magnitude. This should also provide a lesson for future.

Though human casualties were minimum the cyclone has done a lot of damage through destruction of infrastructure and public and private assets. Lakhs of people in about 15,000 villages were affected and about 2.5 lakh houses were damaged. It is estimated that crops worth about Rs 2,500 crore have been damaged. Roads and communication lines have suffered extensive damage and disruption. Restoring all these is a major challenge. Lakhs of people have to be shifted back to their homes, many of which are not there now. Relief has to be provided and compensation paid  to those whose assets were lost. Many people have lost their livelihoods.

There is also the need to prevent occurrence and spread of infectious diseases in camps. Many of these tasks will take time to be accomplished but they need to be undertaken with a sense of speed and urgency.

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