Bhubaneswar: Odisha is one of the most cyclone-prone states in India. In little over the last two decades, Odisha has been ravaged by cyclones. Among them are the Super Cyclone (1999), Phailin (2013), Titli (2018) and then came extreme ‘Severe Cyclone Fani’ (2019).
The Indian sub-continent in the last century has experienced 1,019 cyclones. Out of those, 260 cyclonic disturbances have made their landfalls in Odisha. It just goes to show the effect cyclones have had on Odisha. Yes those have ravaged Odisha, but the state has also grown with experience. Today Odisha is probably the best-managed state in India in tackling cyclones.
When the Super Cyclone ravaged Odisha in 1999, close to 10,000 lives were lost. Odisha did not have the experience then to handle a cyclone of that magnitude. Today however, the situation is completely different. The way the Odisha government led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik handled ‘Cyclone Fani’ is a lesson for all. The administration demonstrated tremendous efficiency, grit and planning in disaster management. It minimised the loss of lives and conducted restoration and relief work at great speed.
Devastation caused by ‘Cyclone Fani’
Cyclone Fani made its landfall in Puri and passed through Bhubaneswar and Cuttack wreaking havoc May 3, 2019 . More than 1.65 crore people were affected, property worth crores of rupees were damaged and destroyed. Yet less than 50 lives were lost. Something unimaginable even a decade back. This is because the Odisha government undertook one of the biggest human evacuations in history. It shifted a record 1.5 million people in just 24 hours.
Cyclone and flood shelter homes
Odisha has certainly turned out to be the best in cyclone disaster management. Cyclone shelters have been developed along the entire coastline of Odisha. There are now 800 multipurpose cyclone and flood shelters spread across the coastline in Odisha. In 1999, the number was just 75.
The shelters have been developed by the Odisha State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA) in association with IIT, Kharagpur. The buildings can withstand wind speed of up to 300 kmph and even moderate earthquakes.
Disaster management system
The Odisha government has also beefed up its disaster management system. The Odisha Disaster Management Authority (ODMA) was set up as an autonomous body to combat emergency situations. The organisation has been very successful in handling natural disasters. It means Odisha does not have to depend on the Centre; it can act on its own.
Development of technology
Odisha also have grown in technology to tackle natural disasters. More than 1.8 crore SMS messages were sent to warn people about ‘Cyclone Fani’. The government however, did not just stop there. All district collectors were mobilised and along with them the police and volunteers. Microphones, door-to-door campaigns were organised prior to the landfall of ‘Cyclone Fani’. It helped the government in carrying out the massive evacuation process.
Quick action plan
The moment the Odisha government got information about Cyclone Fani it acted quickly. Both the state and central machinery swung into action. They prepared for the landfall and also planned a proper response once the cyclone was over. It should be stated here that the evacuated 1.55 million people were shifted to 9,177 shelters. Close to 25,000 tourists were evacuated from vulnerable areas like Puri. Special buses and trains took them to their destinations safely.
The Odisha government also organised a massive awareness campaign prior to ‘Cyclone Fani’. It was done to inform people about the rules to be followed during the cyclone. Twenty Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) units were kept handy along with 335 fire service units. Twenty five units of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were also put on standby in coastal areas. These steps were taken search and rescue operations after the cyclone.
Volunteers were also mobilised to support the local administration in evacuation, distribution of relief and shelter management.
Leadership and vision
These preventive and punitive measures however wouldn’t have been possible without the vision of one man – Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. He learnt from his experience of 1999. His vision has evolved from a focus on saving lives to creating cyclone-resilient infrastructure. There is no doubt that Patnaik has emerged as one of the most successful leaders in distress and disaster management. He has empowered the grassroots-level administration so that relief and rehabilitation is smooth. His plans have certainly worked and Odisha is now considered by many as the perfect example of cyclone management.