Kendrapara: The state continues to remain prone to natural disasters as the Super Cyclone-1999 completes 21 years Thursday. This is because the mangrove forest cover protecting the coastal pockets from natural calamities has declined fast. Mushrooming of prawn gheries has also caused serious damage to the flora and fauna.
Mangroves sustain the ecological balance of coastal areas as well as livelihood security of thousands of fisherman. The Super Cyclone-1999 wreaked havoc in coastal districts. While the official toll then was 9,885 people, unofficial sources estimated the toll to be above 50,000. An estimated 1,500 children were orphaned. Of the total casualty, Jagatsinghpur district alone had accounted for 8,119 people.
At least 13 million people, including 3.3 million children and 5 million women were affected in 1999. The storm had left 7,505 people injured and killed 3,15,886 heads of cattle. The Super Cyclone provided an impetus to the state government to prepare a roadmap to tackle the future natural disasters. As a result, it laid stress on relief and rescue operation during calamities thereafter.
The state government attached importance to construction of roads, cyclone relief shelters, timely evacuation of people from disaster prone habitats to safer places, installation of sirens to alert people at the time of approaching calamities, upgrading of healthcare facilities and environment management.
However, the mangrove forest cover which acts as a cover against cyclonic storms are fast depleating. Ten out of the 20 sirens in the cyclone alert centres have become defunct. This will hit timely evacuation of people before a calamity. Environmentalists said in the 48 km long sea coast of the district, the Bhitarkanika National Park has 188 sqkm of dense mangrove forests. However, these mangrove is declining at a rapid rate since 1960.
Over 88 sqkm of mangrove forests which are known as a protective wall against sea erosion have been washed away into the sea. Mangroves are salt tolerant plant species found in inter-tidal regions along the creeks and estuaries. They play a significant role in protecting the hinterland against cyclones and ingress of sea water.
Besides, they stabilize the coastal land mass against sea erosion. Sambit Kumar Satpathy, district emergency officer, said proper management of natural disasters is always a priority for the district administration because of which the district witnessed zero casualties in the last cyclonic storms.