‘We are getting a better hold on cyclones’

India’s evacuation and rescue efforts in response to Cyclone Phailin last year may have grabbed the world’s attention

October 13, 2014 04:40 am | Updated November 27, 2021 06:54 pm IST - CHENNAI

In the run-up to Cyclone Hudhud’s landfall on Sunday, the Odisha government set itself an ambitious “zero casualty” target.

Though a few casualties have been reported, a historic analysis of fatality data shows that the life of an Indian stuck in the path of an oncoming cyclone is valued more today than even 10 years ago.

The National Crime Records Bureau, which tracks all unnatural deaths, records a steep decline in cyclone-related deaths over the past decade. While the mega-storm that hit Odisha in 1999 killed 3,958 people (unofficial estimates put the number at 10,000), fewer than 100 were killed in a cyclone annually, on average, over the past five years.

India’s evacuation and rescue efforts in response to Cyclone Phailin last year may have grabbed the world’s attention, but the year before that, the country recorded the lowest number of cyclone-related deaths in nearly two decades. In a country where botched disaster relief is the norm, as the Uttarakhand floods in 2013 demonstrated, cyclone response may perhaps be one area where significant gains have been made.

“As a country, we are getting a far better hold on dealing with cyclones,” said Mihir Bhatt of the Disaster Management Institute. “We have become better not only at prediction but also in passing on the information so that people can use it.”

The threat posed by Phailin last year was identified four days in advance, which is an unprecedented lead time compared to India’s capabilities in the late 1990s. A significant amount of funding has also been funnelled into the States since the setting up of the National Disaster Management Authority in 2006.

India used to spend around $300 million a year on disaster preparedness, evacuation and relief in the early 2000s. But last year, the country spent over $1.6 billion. Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, which will bear the brunt of Cyclone Hudhud, accounted for a fifth of the expenditure.

Instances of inefficient fund utilisation come up, as a CAG report pointed out last year. Setting up of an array of Doppler weather radars suffered delays and cost overruns, a disaster response communication grid is still not functional six years after the purchase of equipment and several States used the money for other purposes — Gujarat, for instance, spent over Rs. 200 crore from its disaster relief fund when no official disaster was declared.

Despite the limitations, the money has helped put systems in place, Mr. Bhatt said, cautioning, “Whether they perform over a period of time is yet to be seen.”

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