Odisha: The Balm Before The Storm

WHEN the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani hit coastal Odisha on May 3 – with a wind speed of more than 200km per hour and gusting speed of 240km per hour – it was a déjà vu moment for the state and its people. But, with a critical difference.

On October 29, 1999, when the “Super Cyclone” slammed into Odisha, it claimed nearly 10,000 lives. It was one of India’s worst natural disasters, destroying 3.5lakh houses and completely washing away many villages.

We are happy to report that 20 years later, the meticulous preparedness shown by the state when Cyclone Fani made landfall last week means that the official death toll now stands at 34.

The state undertook the biggest operation of its kind to evacuate a record 1.2million people into nearly 4,000 temporary shelters 24 hours before the storm. More than 45,000 volunteers, 2,000 emergency workers, 100,000 officials, youth clubs, civil society organisations and agencies like National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and  Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI), teamed up to work around the clock to evacuate 1.2million people.

On April 30 and May 1, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a ‘yellow warning’ in Odisha, predicting heavy to very heavy rainfall in the wake of the fast approaching Cyclone Fani. The warning stated that cyclone Fani had transformed into an ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’ and was expected to make landfall by the afternoon of May 3.

The warning from IMD was accurate and came at least 72 hours in advance which gave the authorities the time to prepare for the worst – unlike in 1999 when the warning came just two days before the cyclone hit.

Odisha’s disaster management during Fani has come in for a lot of well-deserved praise, especially by the international media and agencies like the United Nations.

“India’s zero casualty approach to managing extreme weather events is a major contribution to the implementation of the Sendai Framework (for disaster risk reduction) and the reduction of loss of life from such events,” Mami Mizutori, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction said.

Following the devastating Super Cyclone, the state set up the OSDMA, the first dedicated disaster management agency in India and was established six years before the federal government set up its national agency. Earlier this year, the OSDMA was honored with the coveted SKOCH award for the year 2018, the highest independent honour in the country.

Odisha also created a Disaster Rapid Action Force, started public awareness campaigns, invested in early warning systems. When the cyclone hit in 1999, Odisha had 21 shelters, when Fani hit the state had nearly 900 cyclone shelters.

Praising Odisha’s response,  Loretta Hieber Girardet, Head of UNDRR in Asia-Pacific said,“Odisha’s preparedness, early warning system, and quick action have clearly succeeded in saving lives and averting a tragedy.”

Odisha has emerged as a role model in disaster preparedness after Fani and there are a number of lessons to be learned from their response.

-by Aisiri Amin

In the aftermath of Cyclone Fani, Odisha is still struggling to restore basic amenities. If you wish to help the state and its people rebuild their lives, click here.


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