When Cyclone Phailin struck southern Odisha and hit the landfall point near Gopalpur with a wind velocity of 180 to 230 km an hour, it uprooted the lives of over 12 million people, including 3.5 million children
“Death would have been bliss, compared to the living-hell we are facing,” said Krishna Ellama, a fisherman, who had stayed put in the seaside village of Markundi in Ranglaiunda Block of Ganjam. When I visited the village, three days after the cyclone, along a team led by BJP heavyweight Biswabhusan Harichandan, the scene was of utter devastation. The village testified the severity of the cyclone with almost all the houses with their roofs ripped off, electric poles twisted out of shape, telephone wires smashed and roads littered with uprooted trees. Battered walls, broken up boats, mayhem of the tornado were everywhere to be seen. Hungry women and children with empty eyes crowded us. The people had been starving for the last two days, cut off from the mainland by the estuarine back waters. Not one single government official had reached the village, which had a marooned population of nearly 3500 people. We had to take a choppy one-hour boat ride to reach there. For these proud fisher folk, who live off the sea, the trauma of having lost their home and hearth and the only means of livelihood is accentuated by the nightmare of having to survive with the humiliation of being totally dependent on relief, handed down by the rapacious state government.
When Cyclone Phailin struck southern Odisha and hit the landfall point near Gopalpur with a wind velocity of 180 to 230 km an hour, it uprooted the lives of over 12 million people, including 3.5 million children. Armed with an almost accurate prediction of the cyclone s time and path along the preparedness and speedy evacuation plans by various agencies, Phailin s impact was kept to a minimum in terms of casualties. The cyclone s peak lasted only five hours. The worst hit were the poor who had ‘kutcha’ houses. In the district if Ganjam, at least 200,000 houses and over 200,000 hectares of agricultural land has been damaged, making it the state s worst casualty of the storm. More than 40 power transmission towers were uprooted by the cyclone, leaving most of the district without electricity and putting the national grid at strain.
Balasore, Mayurbhanj, Jajpur, Puri, Khurda, Keonjhar and Bhadrak districts in the state were flooded. Because of timely and large evacuation, human causalities have been limited to 25 as on date, but the count is still on.
EVERY POLITICIAN LOVES A GOOD DISASTER
A natural disaster is regarded as the quintessential “act of God”. When a drought or a tsunami strikes a poor country, the images of the disaster victims are soon broadcast around the world non-profit organisations and governments respond with generous relief. This response exemplifies mankind at his finest, humanitarian needs override political concerns.
In India, after natural disaster, people look to the government for relief. Politicians use disasters to further their political graphs. Disaster victims are used as pawns, the compassion for those who need help is purely cosmetic. Politicians of all hues are quick to react to disasters, promising and overseeing government relief and consoling the bereaved in heli-hopping trips.
So, when a cyclone strikes, how will the voters react in the next polls? It’s plausible that voters will blame incumbents, even for something that is as obviously beyond their control as a cyclone. There is, after all, evidence that voters punish incumbents for everything, from rising costs of onions to increase in rapes. But on disasters specifically, the most recent evidence suggests that there is a knee-jerk blame for whoever happens to be in office. The last Super Cyclone saw the Congress government bite the dust, and the BJP combine was swept power. Will this happen this time too. Naveen Patnaik came to limelight in the wake of a storm; will another storm sweep him away? This may sound like blind retrospection, with voters blame whoever happens to be in office when disaster strikes.
Odisha has had a long history of disasters, which have swept away lives and livelihoods in a moment, leaving victims without a home, clothes, income or any way to get around. Government relief provides money for essentials, temporary housing, repairs, waiver of agricultural loans, etc. The assistance is a lifeline that gets people and entire communities back on their feet. But speed and order are vital to relief operations. The budgetary standoff only creates new anxieties and threatens the working relationship between the central government and the state.
The latest Himalayan tsunami that suddenly struck Uttarakhand and parts of Himachal Pradesh has once again revived debate whether it was a natural disaster or a man-made tragedy. Whatever is the answer, one thing that comes out clearly from what followed the catastrophe is that neither the Centre nor the state government was in a position to respond to it adequately.
How the BJD leaders respond to the current crisis post-Phailin will determine how the voters of Odisha will see them in the polls next year. As of now, the spin doctors have been working overtime to project the Chief Minister as a hero. However, his current band of bureaucrats and officers must show how they can effectively manage through the post-emergency period, mobilising and distributing resources so that the people can rebuild their lives quickly. Rather than sparking more fear, they must also inspire those who are suffering to regain the confidence they need to move forward. (AD)
The state government lost no time in patting itself in the back and spun out vague and incredulous figures of 8-10 lakhs people evacuated. How they managed to do so and with what logistics defies all logic. The government has engaged over 3,000 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and 2,000 army personnel and kept 18 helicopters, 12 aircraft and two warships at the ready for rescue and relief operations, realising that having got through the first stage of saving lives, they need to quickly recover.
The hordes of up country journalists who descended on the sleepy town of Gopalpur, hoping to capture a ringside view the storm live, were asked to leave the place when the landfall happened. Most of the reports were government handouts, tom-toming the state government s excellent handling of the situation. One mainstream paper even made a local hero of the District s Collector, holding his responsible for saving a lakh lives. The mainstream media soon moved out, for most of them, Phailin was a damp squib. There were no littered bodies, human or cattle, and the storm had blown over in just five hours. The media has downplayed the horrendous impact on the lives of the people. They do not realise the enormity of the disaster and its impact on future generations of the people of Odisha.
SHARING THE CREDITS
Phailin struck with devastating fury but calibrated efforts of both the central and state governments blunted it. India shows the world how to counter Katrina-like wrath
Nature regularly reminds man it is more mighty and powerful with devastating effect. It reduces man, who has defied gravity, broken the speed of sound and come round the ageing process, to nothing, helpless, hapless and at complete mercy of the fury of Nature. It has powerful weaponry—twisters, tempests, tornados, cyclones, tsunami, earthquakes—to shake the man out of the feeling of achievements and reduces him to be its puny plaything.
But for once, India looked into the eye of Nature s fury, Phailin, which hit into eastern seaboard in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It was possible to stare down the cyclone that hit at 200 kmph because of excellent warnings by the Indian Metrological Department that started four days prior to Phailin, hitting Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh then sweeping to Paradeep in Odisha. The landfall at Gopalpur was at the speed of 185 to 200 kmph. The sea waves surged from 8 ft to 10 ft.
In its fury, Phailin hit villages, snapped power lines, damaged roads, fell trees and swept away anything in its path. Its force is compared to Katrina s that devastated New Orleans. The total loss of devastation is in crores but real amount is yet to be ascertained but loss of life, 30, is what speaks of the excellent calibration of efforts and 100 per cent cooperation between the Centre and the state government down to the district administration and gram panchayats.
At the Centre, the National Executive Committee (NEC), chaired by the Home Secretary and which includes secretaries of all essential ministries like road surface transport, power, health, agriculture and others, and which is the Executive Wing of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), was fully functional, in fact for the first time. It was convened daily by the Home Secretary, wherein the Resident Commissioners of Odisha and Andhra gave their lists of requirements. The NEC immediately arranged whatever was needed.
The Phailin s fury was also checked by the efficiency of the Indian Metrological Department (IMD), which refused to accept the estimate of the US scientists, who predicted the speed of the cyclone to be around 300 kmph and waves 14 ft high as against IMD s 200 kmph. IMD proved right. The Rs-750 crore spent by the Centre in the 11th Plan showed now how the IMD s exact predictions saved lakhs of lives. Over nine lakh people could be evacuated before Phailin knocked out lakhs of homes affecting nine million people and destroying Paradeep and Goplapur ports.
In upgrading the IMD, automatic weather stations were set up, Dopller Radars, with the latest technology were set up in 12 places in Odisha. Buoys along the coastal line up to 400 km made it possible to provide exactly the direction and the speed of the cyclone.
The IMD s contribution to the safe evacuation, which started three days before Phailin hit the state, of nine to 10 lakh people—the biggest ever in India and limiting casualties to 30 is commendable. More casualties were pre-empted by switching off lights at pandals, and on the streets generally. This prevented people from venturing out of homes. Otherwise this Nature s fury could have killed lakhs. The Nature was also cheated by the 100 per cent cooperation between the Centre and the State—from the district administration level to the gram panchayats, said a senior official of the Government of India.
The Odisha government was also well-prepared having learnt lessons from the 1999 cyclone that killed 10,000 people. Its principle was the World Bank s saying, “$1 spent on preparation and prevention is equal to $10 spent after the disaster.” Its Chief Minister Navin Patnaik had set up an Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA); It had already built 247 cyclone relief centres. And under the Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project, funded by the World Bank, 31more centres have been built out of 148. Each centre can hold 500 to 700 people. Over 10,000 pucca buildings, mostly schools, were requisitioned for sheltering evacuated people. One hotel of 25 rooms provided shelter to pregnant women as they awaited delivery.
And it very judiciously used the National Rapid Deployment Force (NRDF), which was raised, trained and given with latest equipment by the NDMA. Initially 8 battalions of 100 highly motivated and trained persons were raised. Two more battalions would be inducted this year. Twenty-nine teams comprising 45 men of the NRDF were sent to Odisha. They were deployed on coastal belt. They helped not only in evacuation, but also in providing medical help, restoring roads and power.
The NDMA motto Thaiyari Hi Mein, Samajh Dari Hai sums up why India could snub the Nature this time. Although the trail of devastation, knocking out lakhs of homes down and uprooting nine million people could not be prevented but timely evacuation of eight to nine million people to cyclone relief centres and 10000 pucca buildings could save thousands of lives from the killer cyclone.
The statistics collected shows that 145,110 villages were affected in 12 districts of Odisha, the worst affected was Ganjam district. But the administration did wonders there—this is evident from the fact that the district magistrate there did not sleep for 100 hours. Crops have been damaged in five lakh hectares—Rs 2400 crore worth of paddy crop destroyed.
The nature has been stunned by the joint efforts of the Centre and Odisha government and the minute to minute coordination between agencies, NEC, NDMA, NRDF and OSDMA. The power has been restored but a lot has to be done. Prevention of epidemics is in priority apart from resettlement of uprooted people, food and essential items supplies, restarting schools are some of the post-cyclone relief work to be done.
India has shown to the world that it is as technology advanced and prepared with sophisticated equipment to face the worst of Nature s fury as any advanced country. “But we are ill-prepared to face earthquakes. And unfortunately, the risk of violent tremors runs across India. Lakhs of houses here could be ravaged and casualties would be very high,” warns NDMA.
While we pat ourselves at snubbing Phailin, we have to urgently do something to minimise devastation by earthquakes.
By Vijay Dutt
Torrential rain that accompanied the cyclone caused floods in the basins of the Baitarni, Budhabalanga, Subarnarekha and Salandi rivers, affecting vast areas of Jajpur, Bhadrak, Keonjhar, Balasore, Puri and Mayurbhanj districts. Bhubaneswar, the capital, and the commercial centre of Cuttack were spared with the damage being at a minimal.
In the wake Phailin, another disaster, which had occurred in the state not very far back in time, had offered several lessons in disaster management. A Community Contingency Plan which involved the community in the management of floods and cyclones had been prepared jointly by the United Nations and the Orissa State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA). The manner in which the recent catastrophe was handled shows that the State has a long way to go in being prepared to meet such disasters. Post-Super Cyclone of 1999, the UNDP had engaged the Centre for Disaster Management to prepare a comprehensive plan concentrating on six areas of disaster management: preparation of response plans for all the 30 districts of Orissa, covering all hazards, including earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, cyclones, heat waves and epidemics; preparation of a geographic information system with spatial and non-spatial thematic overlays, with specific reference to disaster management and development planning; designing and implementing training programmes for and training modules on disaster management for senior administrators, elected representatives, community-based organisations and so on; assessment of early warning systems; strengthening of the disaster management unit of the OSDMA; and setting up of a satellite-based control room network with satellite-based hotlines, e-mail links and so on.
In Odisha, a state ranked in the lowest in all poverty indices, 60 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and 53 per cent are malnourished. In a state where resource inequities are glaring and land reforms non-existent, disaster mitigation and preparedness can only be temporary solutions for long-term questions of livelihood.
PHAILIN WRATH RAVAGES ODISHA
On the fateful night of October 12, 2013, at around 9.05 PM, when wind slowed down, the panic-stricken people rejoiced and came to celebrate on the streets of villages and towns in Ganjam district of coastal Odisha to bid farewell to cyclonic storm Phailin, as if it felled on ground and went back in Gopalpur-on-Sea. But to their grave dismay and utter surprise the catastrophic cyclonic storm revisited within no minutes with a devastating wind speed of 220 kmph and sea surge of 25ft in Gopalpur, the epicenter of shaping storm. And within minutes, it engulfed not only the 85 square kilometers of its size but also severely affected at least seven adjoining districts–Gajapati, Kandhamal, Puri, Khurdha, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara in Odisha and Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh (AP).
It was not like as it was predicted by Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) to fall on ground around 6pm but it took at least three more hours to ignite the speed and force it had. According to unconfirmed reports, it actually fell around 8 pm on ground somewhere in the coast of Srikakulam in AP though the eye of the storm was Gopalpur-on-Sea. But after seeing the wind speed, gravity and nature of the storm, which moved quickly to inland at Gopalpur and all along the coast of Odisha after 9 pm, it has been said that the monster storm had landfall in Gopalpur. When it dissipated after a couple of hours, it had catastrophic effect–affecting millions of people and households, uprooting trees and plants, damaging houses and buildings, flowing of roofs, water pouring inside trembling rooms, killing people in wall collapse, blocking roads and above all it has caused extensive damage to power transmission and distribution infrastructure of 14 districts. Half of the state is under darkness. The bumper harvests of paddy, cereals, maize and cotton have been washed away in at least 17 districts. Cyclone and subsequent floods have destroyed crops in more than seven lakh hectares.
Within two days of the killer cyclone, torrential rains and overflowing rivers triggered floods which affected few more districts namely Balesore, Mayurbhanj, Bhadrak and Jajpur besides the Phailin-devastated Ganjam, Nayagarh and Kendrapara.
Though the state government has stepped up relief and restoration work in the affected districts, the damage caused is huge. It can reach up to more than Rs 20,000 crore. For restoring power infrastructure, which has to start from the scratch, needs Rs 900 crore. “Leave aside the loss in crop damage, people need to settle in their homes and restore their lost livelihoods like fishermen, salt labourers, daily wage earners and rural artisans,” said Mangaraj Panda of United Artists Association, Ganjam.
According to preliminary assessment by the state government, in Ganjam alone 2, 30,000 houses either collapsed or damaged out of 3, 76,608 houses damaged in the state. Standing crop in 2, 16,100 hectares have been lost. The reported cases of human causality are 13. More than 15 lakh people spread over 22 blocks have been affected by Phailin in the district.
In the state twin calamities have affected 1.2 crore people and have claimed lives of more than 39 people, out of whom 21 were killed by killer cyclonic storm. Both cyclone and subsequent floods have engulfed 16,487 villages spread over 2009 gram panchayats of 148 blocks and 43 urban local bodies including Berhampur Municipal Corporation, which is one of the severely affected towns of the state. Even the state capital city Bhubaneswar was severely hit by Phailin storm. It took three days to restore power and water supply channels in the city and people in many slum locations of the city are still sheltering in temporary houses.
Meanwhile, state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has written a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh seeking an assistance of Rs. 1000 crore from Union government. The CM has added, a details and comprehensive report will be sent after the final assessment and estimation of loss. Both the state and Union governments have declared the exgratia payment of Rs. 4 lakh and 2 lakh respectively each for the deceased of the Phailin victims.
Irregularities in relief operation
Despite best efforts of both government and non-government agencies, there seems to be large-scale irregularities in relief work. Opposition parties have alleged that it has been a BJD affair. “BJD corporators, Sarapanchs and leaders have forcibly taken relief materials to their area thereby forcing the officials to sanction relief to them,” said a BJP leader. Congress has alleged that the BJD government is not following Odisha Relief Code. “It believed more on promises than following rules,” said state PCC President Jayadev Jena. State government has made a hype of both the Phailin threat and relief and rescue work. “CM Naveen Patnaik and his lieutenants are only propagating the arrangements and announcements rather than reaching out to the people,” said a senior Congress leader. Still thousands of villages are cut off, many are struggling to live on pittance. “The relief is nowhere to be seen, we have got only 3kg of rice, 2kg of chuvda after three days. How can we live/manage our family on this?” asked Khali Sahu of Palur village in Ganjam.
State government has declared 14 days relief for the people of severely-affected areas, which includes 50 kg of rice and Rs 500 for dal and seven days for partly affected, which includes 25kg rice and Rs 300 for dal. But still thousands are languishing in water-logged and isolated areas. In many places, tahasildars and BDOs have expressed their inability to arrange funds for the stranded people. Since the government has not made advance payments for relief operation, it has to be diverted from the other funds. How can it be possible to disburse cash to people in the chaotic situation? asked a district official. The situation of people living along coastline is more precarious. For nearly four days people of the much-talked about Podampeta village in Ganjam have not been visited by any government official or no relief reached to them. Just before Phailin, government officials and politician made this village as pilgrimage for a complete week but after Phailin nobody worried for them as water engrossed the village from all fronts. “Where are these people?” asked Ch Tateya of the village.
Unsolved questions over rescue operation
The rescue operation is being treated as the largest ever in the world and single best especially in Indian subcontinent if we consider the words of Odisha Special Relief Commissioner Pradipta Mahapatra and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Vice-Chairperson Shashidhar Reddy. According to them, in 1990 cyclone, which confronted coastal AP, nearly 6 lakh people were evacuated but for Phailin more than 7 lakh people have been evacuated or shifted to safer places just before hours of landfall. Many were settled in cyclone shelters within reach of 5km of seashore or others were deported to nearby schools and government buildings. But opposition parties and NGOs flayed this saying, seeing the possible intensification of the storm 12 hours before the landfall on the fateful day and on October 11, many villagers left their villages on their own, government had only shifted few coastal villagers to cyclone centres. “We had shifted women and children of our village to our relatives to nearby hilly villages on our own, no government officials helped us in this regard”, said Kamaraj Chhatai of Niladripur village. Niladripur village under Ganjam Block of Ganjam district is a habitation of 220 families, which is situated just 1km from the seashore but there is no cyclone shelter in the village.
Contrary to this, many agencies and experts including UN have praised the Odisha government for minimising the causalities by evacuating people from the calamity zone. Since the very beginning, the state government had adopted the approach of zero causalities, even order were given to officials to forcibly evacuate the unrelenting people.
People in coastal districts of Odisha were very much scared to watch description of possible and likely intensification and gravity of cyclonic storm Phailin in TV channels and newspapers but to their utter surprise TV channels went off 12 hours before the landfall. They only depended on radio and mobile phones that again went off after landfall as mobile towers and radio transmission towers got twisted in wind speed.
The fear and panic spread on October 8, when TV channels and newspapers flashed the story of ever intensified cyclonic storm named Phailin coming across to Odisha and AP coast with a lightning speed of 18 kmph. The storm was caused by deep depression formed over the North Andaman Sea in the Bay of Bengal centered on 1350 km off the south-east of Paradeep Port and was intensifying towards Gopalpur. This information and news analysis and subsequent predictions of leading meteorological scientists world over and analysis of USA Navy further worsened the situation of panic-stricken people. Many fled from coastal villages with their families. People got more scared when government started preparing for the worst by deploying Army, Air Force, NDRF, ODRAF contingents.
Super Cyclone revisited after 14 years
The cyclonic storm was the great reminder of the Super Cyclone of October 29, 1999. People in the region, who had successfully resisted the fury of nature by rebuilding their lives, again fell trap to nature s fury. The recent Phailin that stroked nearly one third of Odisha has been compared with the Super Cyclone of 1999 that had crushed and lashed the same region of the state. But the epicenter of shaping storm was Earesema and Paradeep coast of Jagatsinghpur district where it had groundfall. The severe super cyclone with wind speed of 250 kmph and sea surge of more than 30ft had affected 15 lakh people and rendering millions homeless and penniless spread over 97 blocks in 14 districts across Odisha. Officially 9,885 people died but the figure was more than that, conservative estimates put it more than 25,000 people were killed by the Super Cyclone. 15 lakh houses were collapsed. Government had provided compensation of 75,000 per deceased. Odisha had asked the then Union government to declare it a national calamity but it was turned down by Central government. Out of Rs, 6000 crore sought for restoration and rehabilitation work only 828 crore were provided by the Centre.
With both the state and Centre are at loggerheads on a number of issues like conferring Special Category State status for Odisha, it has to be seen how the Centre responds to compensate Odisha for Phailin damages as both of them patted each other s back taking credit for ensuring minimising human causalities by rescuing people much before the storm s arrival. But still the priorities remain with the state government to speed up the restoration and rehabilitation work.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Gopalpur
It is wrong for the government authorities to pat themselves over the successful evacuation of people from seaside and minimising loss of lives. The truth is that residents of the seaside villages had learnt from the 1999 super cyclone, and had moved away. Media hype and a bit of government support did help them. Gobinda Rao of Markundi said that the entire village had information about Phailin three days before it struck and the villagers had called a meeting and unanimously decided to take shelter in a concrete house of the village and not depend on the government. The relief work that had ensued is more geared towards propaganda and publicity than the actual needs of the situation. The callous approach of the officials in all relief related work has resulted in a lot of protests throughout the affected areas. The desperate people have unleashed their anger at the politicians, officials and police.
PIERCING INTO INACCESSIBLE POCKET
It was a breezy afternoon on October 17. Although the ghastly Phailin had taken exit, still its preys are sobbing on their devastated households and livelihoods. Food and drinking water like minimum prerequisites are inaccessible worst-affected masses in nearer habitats to sea within Ganjam district, Where no government assistance could reach yet. Nearly fifty numbers of spirited Modi Sena youth, under the leadership of Shri Raj Narayan Jena, were seen venturing into the marooned and cut-off Markanda village in Rangeilunda Panchayat Samiti of Ganjam district. The vicinity is still unapproachable owing to the collapse of the only connecting bridge over the rivulet. Fast current in the flowing water of the stream was terrifying. Some of the Modi Sena volunteers made it to the village by swimming as the boat lost its balance during sailing. Steward of Modi Sena, Shri Murali Manohar Sharma took the risk of crossing the water and was injured in the middle of his voyage on his feet. He was saved by ODRAF soldiers. But the current was felt to succumb before the valor of Shri Sharma and the whole squad could reach the destination, finally. Sufferers in the village were lamenting the government unresponsiveness. Food, drinking water packets and tarpaulins were distributed among the villagers in a much disciplined manner by the volunteers of Modi Sena. “Modi Sena is the first team to reach here with relief material,” said the local inhabitants. “Government seems to have failed in locating us, perhaps,” said a victim in Markanda village. (Rohan Pal)
Hit by the twin calamities of cyclone Phailin and resultant floods, the Odisha government today sought immediate release of Rs 1,523 crore to expedite relief and restoration works in the affected areas. The demand was made by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “In order to take up relief and restoration work of an immediate nature, I would request you to release an advance of Rs 1,000 crore over and above the corpus of Rs 523 crore available in the State Disaster Response Fund for the year 2013-14,” Patnaik said in his letter.
By Anil Dhir from Gopalpur