Cyclone preparedness and Odisha – the unfinished agenda

By Dr Binod Kumar Patro, Faculty of Community & Family Medicine at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar

The beautiful cost lines of Odisha which makes itself proud also makes it vulnerable for natural disasters like cyclone. The cyclone Fani which made its landfall on the coast of Odisha near Puri on the third day of May 2019 resulting reported death toll as abysmally low of around 38 speaks volumes of the preparedness exercise undertaken by the government agencies. It is now time to understand the best practices and what could have been done better.
The cyclone Fani which has chosen its home to Odisha after 20 years of horrendous super cyclone which resulted in close to 10,000 deaths in the month of October 1999. The concerned agencies of government has made systematic progress in its organizational capacity and execution to combat the natural disaster in a professional manner. In the year 1999, after the super cyclone, the state of Odisha was cut off from the rest of the world for close to 48 hours due lack of electricity and telephone network; in contrast this time the communication network including the mass media, telecom and internet was used to its full potential for the preparedness exercise. The communication strategy used to generate awareness and expectations from every citizen for least damage to lives. The advisories on television, SMS and WhatsApp were making rounds well in advance. This tells the prediction system was quite accurate in terms of timing, intensity and location which resulted in least damage to lives. The large scale evacuation (close to one million) of people from the vulnerable areas by the agencies was possible because of strong predictable warning signals. The evacuation system was possible as the long term preparedness of the state was in place in terms of permanent and temporary shelter homes in the state of Odisha. At present the state houses close to 900 shelters in comparison to 20 odd shelters in the year 1999. Mass transport (Rail and Air) to the Capital City of Bhubaneswar was closed for 3rd and 4th of May 2019 to reduce the damage. All these efforts resulted in abysmally low deaths which worth appreciating. But, what is not counted is which is less visible.
The loss of stray animals which is not a priority for many is going to be unnoticed. Disposal of dead animals shall pose a big challenge. The flora and fauna which is damaged due to the cyclone is going to impact the city and neighbourhood for quite some time. Many trees which are of 10 to 20 years old are uprooted by the cyclonic storms which is difficult to replenish.
The city of Bhubaneswar which hosted of Mens Hockey World Cup held in 2018 was decked up for the international events. The capital city also topped the Smart City contest for the year 2017. The city had undertaken a series of reforms to gain national and international attention. The greenery of the city will be lost for quite some time with Fani making its highest impact on the non-movables. The physical infrastructure of public institutions such as Railway Station, Airports and Medical Colleges including AIIMS were affected to a large extent, which makes its difficult for its users to avail the full range of services for a good amount of time after the disaster.
The unfinished agenda
The city planning needs to accommodate the unique geo-positioning requirements of the city. The plantation around the city has to be tail or made which can withstand the frequently encountered natural disasters. The damage to Railway Station and Airport also demands rethinking the way it has to built as one to one basis rather than one size fits all. The public institutions like AIIMS and SCB Medical College’s physical infrastructure was affected by cyclone Fani with no casualties calls for re-look into the planning of building construction which is prone for cyclones from time to time. The city needs to adopt specific building codes for public institutions and implement it in letter and spirit. Increasing the resilience of the community is one of the most important tasks which needs sustained efforts of all the stakeholders. Building capacity of the population is the key to success. Local self-help group network, mock drills in resident welfare associations and large institutions can help in building the capacity and improving community resilience.

(The views are completely personal)
Dr Binod Kumar Patro, Faculty of Community & Family Medicine at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar
Email- [email protected]