Disaster readiness: Odisha shows way

Odisha has come a long way from its terrible experience of the 1999 super cyclone which killed over 10,000 people and caused unprecedented devastation in the coastal areas of the state. The cyclone Fani, rated ‘extremely severe’, which hit the state on Friday, caused 29 deaths and affected about 10,000 villages and towns, but the state authorities and others who were engaged in the evacuation, rescue and relief work deserve credit for limiting the human toll and damage. Odisha learnt its lessons from the handling of natural calamities, especially cyclones to which the state is prone, and prepared itself well to face the calamity this time. It has improved its performance with every one of the three major cyclones it faced since 2013, and has won international recognition and praise for its disaster management efforts. The United Nations has praised the state’s performance this time.

It is not mean work to evacuate over 1.2 million people from the path of the cyclone in a short period of time, especially when the official machinery is busy with election work. But the state administration, with help and support from the central forces, disaster relief bodies, the armed forces, other agencies and non-profit organistations managed to accomplish the task. Cyclone shelters and relief camps were also set up and used extensively. Science and technology was effectively used to predict the occurrence, course and impact of the cyclone, and information from the meteorological department and satellite data helped much in this. Warnings were issued and precautions were taken well in time. Then media was put to use to convey timely information to the people and for communication among rescue and relief personnel. About 2.6 million mobile messages were sent to the people and radio, television and loudspeakers were put to good use. All this was backed up by adequate transportation facilities, which included special trains and other means of public and private transport.

Rehabilitation of people and reconstruction of lost and damaged asserts are a major challenge. Buildings and other assets, especially in urban areas like Puri, and crops and trees everywhere have suffered much damage. Sustained efforts and large financial resources will be needed for rebuilding and to compensate people for their losses. In recent years, the idea of constructing less costly but stronger buildings for residential and other purposes has gained some popularity in the coastal regions of Odisha. But the idea needs to gather more currency. Disaster management capabilities need to be further improved in view of the possibility of the threat of extreme natural phenomena increasing in future. Such capacity building should receive greater attention in other states also.

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