I wish and pray, a Fani does not strike Odisha coasts now.
But, if it does, we need a special strategy to deal with it, something that’s different than what we have already championed.
Odisha has been a torchbearer in disaster response.
After the Super Cyclone of 1999 struck the state in a never-seen before devastating scale, the state has come a long way in developing its skills, coordination abilities and policy measures to deal with rest of such cyclones in quite effective manner.
Challenges remain, and there is always scope for improvement, but the fact remains that we have moved far ahead of even some of the world’s developed nations in rescue operations and other aspects of disaster response.
This experience has certainly come handy while dealing with COVID19.
Odisha has so far managed the response operations during this pandemic very well.
In disaster management, however, staying prepared for the future is very important and a dynamic response system to deal with any unprecedented additional disasters would be the need of hour.
While we are dealing with the world’s greatest disaster of our times, a cyclone like Fani could add to our worries and preparations can be too taxing considering the conflicting nature of preparations we need to do for both of these.
While technology has improved and we can get some time to prepare for a cyclone like Fani, if that strikes us in the coming weeks, it may still throw unprecedented challenges.
Last year, when Fani struck us, the movement of the devastating wind after the landfall made damages to cities like Bhubaneswar for which the city was clearly not prepared.
If in case, despite all our technological advances and accurate predictions, such a cyclone hits our cities now, while people are under lockdown, things might get too difficult as supplies and services, disrupted by such a storm, may take longer than usual to come back to normalcy.
Repairs to infrastructure – non essential items as per COVID management guidelines – would be another big headache.
Our police, municipality staff and government staff are currently busy in enforcing the lockdown.
The healthcare professionals are at the severest level of stress.
All these are vital people in our response to disasters like cyclones as well.
The civil society, NGOs, aid workers, etc. have also been facing challenges in getting their personnel together and even to get permission to operate during COVID.
Migrant labourers are temporarily housed in several shelters and need special attention, and services including food, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
In rural areas, a response to a cyclone at the moment would be much more challenging.
We need to evacuate millions of people from the coastal plains, transport them in crowded vehicles to be sheltered in cyclone shelters and other local infrastructure.
That’s a stupendous task, more so at a time when we have the task to maintain social (read ‘physical’) distancing.
Our cyclone shelters are not sufficient to host lakhs of people, who might have to be evacuated if in case a cyclone hits during this lockdown period, while maintaining the mandatory physical distancing.
Schools, colleges, panchayat buildings, etc. have been converted to quarantine centres for migrant labourers and others who have returned from other states and that’s the reason we might face shortage of housing facilities for the evacuated people in a proper and safe manner.
Then there are other challenges of food, water, sanitation etc. that come with a cyclone and can get aggravated because of the current pandemic situation.
While I have reasons to bet on the proactive capacity of our disaster management authority, I also strongly recommend the formulation of a strategy to augment our capacity to handle the additional burden of a devastating cyclone, if at all it hits the Odisha coasts in the coming weeks.
We can all contribute our bit with our expertise and services to prepare such a strategy and an action plan.
* Known water and climate change expert of India, popularly known as Water Man of Odisha.