government report says Fani-affected areas have lost greenery to the tune of Rs537 crore. The report estimates the number of uprooted trees at 14 lakh. Vast swathes of casuarina plantations along the coast and a huge number of other trees inland too, have been uprooted and devastated. In Balukhand, Puri, where the cyclone is said to have made landfall, an estimated 5.5 million trees have fallen. Apart from uprooted trees, the total loss due to damage of trees numbers over 10 million. Within a week of the cyclone, these once lush green acres of forests have turned into brown heaps of tinder. Although people are free to collect these for firewood, the scale of destruction is such that firewood collection alone may not be enough to clear out the land. In many areas, water bodies are being damaged due to rotting trees that have fallen into them. Help is still far for many villages that remain cut off from some of the now essentials for life, including power, for return to normalcy. Not only villages but even the state capital of Bhubaneswar, which was promised total electrification by 12 May has not had the good fortune of being benefited by that prophecy. Now it is being claimed by government that 10,000 households have not received power but they will get energy by midnight of 12 May. It is surprising why our government officials always prefer to mislead the common citizens. For example, in most rail accidents or disaster related deaths, the Indian system always downplays the number of casualties, thereby leaving huge gaps between official and non official figures. This probably is a mindset left behind by colonial rulers who did not want to incite locals on such issues. Drawing a cue, it is not surprising that state bureaucrats needlessly tell untruths about their abilities to attain targets at specific time periods. Instead of setting a deadline of 12 May, the officials could easily have conducted surveys of the damage and set area-wise realistic deadlines, keeping in mind infrastructure requirements and the efficiency of the workmen available. It is wrong to blame the workmen or to harass and attack them on the part of citizens. All the bitter encounters that one hears of between electrical staff and local residents could have been easily avoided if the command structure would not have been headless and it would have given clear roadmap. The aftereffects of Fani must have convinced city dwellers of Bhubaneswar, Puri and Cuttack that, till now, whatever we had all been fed about the excellent abilities of the state to handle natural calamities could very easily have been bureaucratic jugglery. Maybe there were not many casualties in the earlier cyclones, but the rescue, relief and most importantly, restoration works in rural Orissa after Phailin in 2013, HudHud in 2014, Titli in 2018, could have been equally shoddy as we notice today. Just because those were in rural belts, the feedback may not have been that efficient. Also, because of highly improved meteorological science, the forecasts are far more precise and superior than the Super Cyclone of 1999.
Roads leading to Puri, such as the national highway, are criss-crossed at several points by high-tension electric cables. The loss of greenery has undoubtedly sent temperatures across the affected region soaring. The absence of trees will also affect ground water as well as surface water bodies. With close to a month left for monsoon to kick in, it could have two angles to it. The positive one would be there will be availability of sufficient fresh water wherever there is scarcity, which is in many parts. The negative part could be that without a roof over their heads, many villagers will be left at the mercy of nature.
Trees that are showing signs of life must be supported by watering them or giving them due care so that they can spring back to life. The forest department should also beware of large scale fires due to the presence of dry fallen trees. Fani has shown that trees such as casuarina and eucalyptus are not best suited to withstand storms. Indigenous species such as neem, pongamia and banyan are better suited to survive strong winds, although these species might not be able to thrive in coastal regions. The situation calls for a rethink on replanting strategies for the future. It is time to go for underground cabling instead of overhead electric lines in cyclone prone areas to avoid damage and protect the basic infrastructure of electricity while allowing trees to grow naturally.
It must also be remembered that plantations along the coast have helped reduce the impact of Fani deeper inland. It is, therefore, incumbent to work quick-time to ensure survival of coastal and other green buffers against whimsical weather patterns.