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Odisha fishermen vulnerable due to frequent cyclonic events

Turning their future around: Fishermen trying to lift an overturned boat at the cyclone-hit Penthakata village in Odidha.

Turning their future around: Fishermen trying to lift an overturned boat at the cyclone-hit Penthakata village in Odidha.   | Photo Credit: BiswaranjanRout

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In the past 100 years, State has witnessed 35% of storms that crossed the east coast

It’s been 15 days since Cyclone Fani swept through coastal Odisha but Erra Babu, 51, is not sure if he would be able to venture into the Bay of Bengal any time soon.

At Penthakata, the fishermen’s settlement where the expert seafaring fisherman lives, boats still lay upside down while fishing nets remain buried under mounds of sand – marks of the devastation left behind by one of the strongest summer cyclones to hit Odisha.

“This is probably one of the longest periods I have sat idle and kept watching the sea,” says Mr. Babu. He is likely to wait for a few more days as the boats can be repaired only when power is restored.

The wait is painful, says Mr. Babu, who finds it difficult to feed his five-member family as his savings and loans are getting exhausted with every passing day.

Uppal Raju, a fellow fishermen, says, “As the frequency of extreme weather events has gone up in the past few decades, the number of fishing days has gradually come down, impacting our livelihood.”

“There were times when we used to spend 180 days fishing in the deep seas in a year. Now, the number of fishing days barely crosses 100,” says Mr. Babu.

Packing furious winds, heavy rains and a huge tidal surge, Cyclone Fani razed many houses in Penthakata to ground on May 3. There are about 2,000 fishing boats in Penthakata and on any given day 5,000 fishermen would be deep inside the sea. In one stroke, Fani rendered them jobless for a considerable period of time.

At Satapada on the banks of Chilika, Asia’s largest brackish water lake, Pramod Behera, who doubles up as a fisherman and a boat operator, is busy searching for pieces of timber that were once part of his boat. “Fani left no place as safe. Neither my boat nor my fishing nets were spared, even though I had shifted them to places I thought was safe,” says Mr. Behera.

The fishing community has been severely affected; the loss is estimated at ₹6.95 crore. The figure, however, does not reflect the real loss, given the employment the sector generates.

Cyclones and other atmospheric events have caused a rise in unemployment in the fishermen community over the years. The idle time begins from time of issuance of advisories till the event takes place. Extreme weathers are triggering migration from fisher villages, apart from alienation from fishing, a traditional livelihood option.

Its geographical location and physical environment make Odisha Coastal Zone vulnerable to frequent cyclonic disturbances. The coastline of Odisha is only about 17% of India’s east coast, but it has been affected by nearly 35% of all cyclonic and severe cyclonic storms that have crossed the east coast and by associated storm surges that have often inundated large tracts of coastal districts, according to a State government report.

“The land and sea interaction is very high in Odisha, for which weather events are taking place so frequently. Land masses of Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts are slightly inside sea and get hit by atmospheric systems which are generated either from Andaman and Nicobar or from the southern side,” said S. C. Sahu, former Director of IMD, Odisha.

Dr. Sahu said during extreme weather conditions, bulletins are issued four times a day for fishermen. If the advisory is termed dangerous for fishermen, the trawler owners’ association does not issue any permit for trawler for fishing, he said.

When a low pressure area brews over Bay of Bengal, it is the fishing community which gets worried about life, property and livelihood first. The State witness two cyclone seasons - one during pre-monsoon period (April, May and June up to onset of monsoon) and another post monsoon (October and December) prevail over the Odisha.

The east coast of India is one of the six most cyclone-prone areas in the world. In the past 100 years, the Indian subcontinent experienced 1,019 cyclonic disturbances, of which 890 were along the east coast and 129 were along the western coast and 260 cyclonic disturbances made their landfall along the Odisha coast, the State government report said.

Out of the 260 disturbances there were 180 depressions (69%), 57 storms (22%) and 23 severe storms (9%). In comparison to all the coastal states of India, the Odisha coast has the highest vulnerability in terms of landfall. With 29% of the total disturbances affecting Odisha coast the vulnerability of the Odisha Coastal Zone is relatively high in comparison to other states like West Bengal (14%), Andhra Pradesh (13%) and Tamil Nadu (7%).

“By taking together the figures of the storms and severe storms, the Odisha Coastal Zone is twice more vulnerable in comparison to the other eastern states. The revisit or recurrence time of a severe storm to the Odisha coast is around four years; for West Bengal coast it is 5 years. As far as cyclones are concerned, the revisit time for the Odisha coast is nearly two years which is much shorter than that of the other states indicating that Odisha is the most frequently cyclone affected coastal State in the country,” said Bishnupada Sethi, Managing Director, Odisha State Disaster Management Authority.

On an average, about five to six tropical cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal every year, of which two to three are within the mild to severe range. During the period from 1993-2018, the State has experienced eight years of cyclone including super cyclone of 1999.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 6:34:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/odisha-fishermen-vulnerable-with-frequent-cyclonic-events/article27173881.ece

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