New Delhi: Cyclone Fani made its landfall in Odisha’s Puri on Friday, with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) categorising it as an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’ — the second most intense category.
Sudarshan Chhotoray, director of the Focus Odisha foundation, said on Thursday that about 2.5 lakh people engaged in fishing and related activities were still living along the state’s 480-kilometre coastline. “Many of these will continue to stay along the coast because of livelihood concerns,” Chhotoray said, hinting at the uncertainties that entail governmental evacuation plans. “The people have also learnt how to stay safe during cyclones because they have experienced many such incidents in the past,” he added.
Odisha has witnessed seven major cyclones in the last 50 years. In October 1971, the district of Balasore was hit by a cyclonic storm that claimed more than 10,000 lives and about 10 lakh people were rendered homeless.
In 1999, the state was hit by a cyclone that was categorised as a ‘super cyclonic storm’ — the most severe according to IMD. The storm claimed about 10,000 lives, according to information provided by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics. The lives of about 1.29 crore people were affected due to the havoc caused by this cyclone.
Cyclone Phailin came next in October 2013 and claimed about 21 lives. About 1.3 crore others were affected by the storm and the floods that ensued.
In the next year, Cyclone Hudhud hit Odisha in October. Though the storm made a landfall in the state of Andhra Pradesh, it affected neighbouring states too. Three casualties were recorded in Odisha, while the total death toll across the two states went up to 64 and about two and a half lakh people were affected.
In 2018, the state again witnessed two cyclones in the same year. Both these cyclonic storms hit Odisha within a span of three months.
Cyclone Titli, which claimed 77 lives and affected about 60 lakh people hit the state in October. The cyclone first hit Andhra Pradesh and then headed towards Odisha and some parts of South Bengal.
Another cyclonic storm, Phethai, made a landfall in Andhra Pradesh just two months later. It resulted in the death of one person in Andhra Pradesh and affected the lives of about 20,000 others in Odisha.
It should be mentioned though that the state of Odisha received international acclaim, including from the United Nations, for its disaster management plans.
“The Odisha government managed to reduce human deaths during Phailin by evacuating around one million people from the seaside areas. The authorities also made people aware of the areas which were vulnerable and saved many lives,” said Margareta Wahlstrom, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, at an event in Bhubaneswar in April, 2019. “Today, Odisha is a global leader in disaster management and risk reduction,” added the UN official.
She added that Odisha has “learnt lessons” from the previous cyclones and adequately made preparations like the construction of cyclone shelters in view of Phailin.
But the arrival of cyclone Fani in the month of May still remains a concern. Though Odisha is known for experiencing cyclones in regular intervals, they usually batter the state in the month of October.
According to government records, Odisha has witnessed a major cyclone in the month of May only five times during the last 126 years. The state was hit by a cyclone in the month of May for the first time in 1893 followed by 1914, 1917 and 1981. The last time the state experienced a cyclone in the month of May was 30 years back in 1989.
As for the level of preparedness in view of Fani, the state government has already evacuated about 45,000 people from the coastline, Chhotoray said, explaining that such persons would be housed in the 882 cyclone shelters that the state built after the 1999 super cyclone. Each of such shelters is capable of housing about 500 people.
Although, Chhotoray mentioned that given improper maintenance, the shelters lack basic facilitates like the availability of clean drinking water and sanitation. It remains to be seen how the model state — in terms of cyclone preparedness — will fare this time around in ensuring the safety of its residents and providing thorough rehabilitation thereafter.