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Posted at: May 27, 2019, 8:09 AM; last updated: May 27, 2019, 8:12 AM (IST)ENVIRONMENT: DISASTER MANAGEMENT

Bearing the brunt

Effective implementation of mitigation and risk reduction measures can improve cyclone management, writes SP Vasudeva
Bearing the brunt

India is vulnerable in varying degrees to a large number of natural as well as man-made disasters in view of its geo-climatic and socio-economic conditions. Cyclones are one of the natural disasters that wreak havoc on coastal areas as these are accompanied by high-speed winds, storm surge and heavy rain leading to floods. In future, with climate change becoming more pronounced, hazardous events such as cyclones are set to grow, necessitating appropriate measures to manage these. India has made great strides in moving from a reactive response to being proactive in developing an early warning system, implementing disaster preparedness, mitigation and risk reduction initiatives as mentioned in the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009. Measures to deal with the post-disaster phase of recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation are also included in these documents. 

Recurring cyclones cause a loss of human lives, besides public and private property, resulting in reversing developmental gains at regular intervals. The cyclone-prone coastal states contribute significantly to the country’s GDP and economic growth, hence the impact of cyclones lead to appreciable social and economic losses. This not only results in pushing a large segment of the population into economic distress, but also leads to the diversion of scarce resources from planned development activities to relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The problems and issues arising due to cyclones in India were taken seriously after the 1999 super cyclone of Odisha, wherein about 10,000 people died, 4 lakh head of cattle perished, more than 20 lakh houses in the state were damaged, and agricultural and horticultural fields were inundated. The estimated loss was around Rs 25,000 crore. On the basis of its National Strategy of Cyclone Management, the Union Government, in consultation with vulnerable states and with the assistance and technical advice of the World Bank, initiated the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP). In view of the heavy costs involved, the project was decided to be implemented in phases, starting with the most vulnerable states.

The NCRMP-I was initiated in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in 2011 at a cost of Rs 1,499 crore. A Web-based early warning dissemination system for prompt and uninterrupted communication to all stakeholders, especially people at the last mile, through their mobiles and e-mails was to be developed. Cyclone risk mitigation infrastructure such as multi-purpose shelters for housing the vulnerable and the needy, laying of a network of roads to unconnected shelters and habitations and, where required, bridges for people to smoothly flee before landfall of the cyclone, was to be used subsequently for rescue and relief operations. The erection of saline embankments to protect coastal agricultural/horticultural lands and villages from storm surge and flooding were part of this project. Capacity-building of human resources — both government managers and communities — for ensuring better management of disasters, especially cyclones, was another component of the project.

To implement these measures, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) concurrently developed an early warning system that not only charts the path to be followed by the cyclone, but also predicts the exact timing and place of the landfall about a week in advance. Such an early warning helps in undertaking preparatory activities with a zero-casualty approach. People living in low-lying areas and kutcha houses within 0-10 km of the coastline are evacuated to nearby cyclone shelters and other identified safe buildings. This was the case with previous cyclones — Phailin, Hudhud and Gaga. During the recent cyclone, Fani, the Odisha government evacuated 14 lakh people to such safe locations.

The implementation of components of NCRMP-I have brought resilience against cyclone risks. These measures were visible  in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha when Phailin struck in 2013 and Hudhud in 2014; only 44 people died due to the former and 61 due to the latter. However, losses of Rs 26,000 crore was reported due to Phailin and Rs 21,000 crore due to Hudhud in view of the colossal damage caused to electrical infrastructure, inundation of agricultural and horticultural lands, damage to houses and other buildings, especially blowing away of their roofs. 

It was, therefore, decided by the Union Government to further initiate mitigation and risk reduction measures to tackle such losses. Components of taking electrical infrastructure underground, helping residents have cemented house roofs resistant to wind speed of up to 300 km per hour and making such a measure compulsory for government and public sector buildings, raising of shelterbelts of trees to protect coastal agriculture and horticulture from strong winds by acting as bio-shields, conserving mangroves and planting these where required for protection from storm surge and coastal erosion were decided to be made part of NCRMP-I. The new project, NCRMP-II, with all the mentioned components of Phase I, was initiated in 2015 with an outlay of Rs 2,800 crore. It is under implementation in the coastal states of Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Tamil Nadu and Puducherry are covered through the World Bank-aided Emergency Tsunami Reconstruction Project which covers recovery in tsunami-affected areas and reduction in vulnerability to coastal communities from cyclones, storm surges and floods. These efforts have brought nine states under mitigation and risk reduction from cyclones.

Cyclone Gaga, which struck Tamil Nadu in November 2018, caused the death of about 40 people, besides a colossal loss to land use and infrastructure. Fani, which hit Odisha on May 3, caused similar losses — 64 people died and 54 lakh livestock and birds perished in 14 districts. 

The analysis of recent cyclones indicates that although success has been achieved in minimising the loss of human and animal lives through timely early warning, and raising of mitigation and risk reduction infrastructure, but land resources, public and private property and daily usable infrastructure have suffered heavy losses. Mainstreaming of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in cyclone management is required, incorporating cyclone risk reduction and mitigation measures into developmental policy, planning and practice. This has already been adopted by the Union Government. State governments have similarly been instructed and are following the directions. Therefore, both Central and state governments must fund and monitor these measures to ensure that these are in place and make the private sector follow suit in the shortest possible time to avoid losses in future.

The disaster response mechanism, manned by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)/State Disaster Response Force — and, where required, ably assisted by the armed forces — is one of the best in the world. They assist in the pre-disaster phase by evacuating people and in the post-disaster phase by clearing roads of fallen trees and electrical infrastructure within hours. Amid Fani’s onslaught, commendable work was done by the NDRF and the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force in clearing roads, rescuing people and assisting in the distribution of food and drinking water. 

The country has to move towards nil death rate of humans and zero avoidable losses to productive land use and infrastructure in government, public and private sectors. This is achievable through timely implementation of the NCRMP, and efficient accomplishment of preparation, mitigation and risk reduction measures in 0-10 km of coastal areas. The achievement of such positive results would also reflect India’s commitment to comply with the UN’s Sendai Framework of Disaster Risk Reduction.

The author is former National Project Director, National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project

The Sendai Framework

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-30 is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action. It was endorsed by the UN General Assembly after the 2015 Third UN World Conference on 

Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Japan.

  • The framework is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognises that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders, including local government and the private sector. 

  • It aims for substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.

  • Sendai Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) 2005-15: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. It is the outcome of the stakeholder consultations initiated in March 2012 and inter-governmental negotiations held from July 2014 to March 2015, which were supported by the UNISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) upon the request of UN General Assembly.

Seven global targets

  • Substantially reduce global disaster mortality by 2030, aiming to lower average per 1 lakh global mortality rate in the decade 2020-30 compared to 2005-15. 

  • Substantially reduce number of affected people globally by 2030, aiming to lower average global figure per 1 lakh during 2020-30 compared to 2005-15. 

  • Reduce direct economic loss in relation to global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030. 

  • Substantially reduce disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, among them health and educational facilities, including through developing their resilience by 2030. 

  • Substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020. 

  • Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of this Framework by 2030. 

  • Substantially increase availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information & assessments to the people by 2030.

Four priorities for action

1. Understanding disaster risk

Disaster risk management should be based on an understanding of this risk in all its dimensions of vulnerability, capacity, exposure of persons and assets, hazard characteristics and environment. Such knowledge can be used for risk assessment, prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response.

2. Strengthening disaster risk governance

Disaster risk governance at the national, regional and global levels is very important for prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery, and rehabilitation. 

3. Investing in disaster risk reduction 

Public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction through structural 

and non-structural measures are essential to enhance economic, social, health and cultural resilience of persons, communities, countries and their assets, as well as environment.

4. Enhancing disaster preparedness 

The growth of disaster risk means there is a need to strengthen disaster preparedness for response, take action in anticipation of events, and ensure capacities are in place for effective response and recovery at all levels.



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