Saving lives, and livelihoods
Discussing the commendable disaster preparedness on the Odisha government's part counts for an important lesson – climate resilience in the wake of natural disasters. While Odisha's experience will feature in the UN Disaster Risk Reduction conference convening on May 13 in Geneva, back home, India should pay heed to the lesson; retrospect to develop climate-resilient infrastructure because it is not just about Odisha but all other coastal settlements. In fact, this step essentially is an apt recommendation for all tropical nations because nature does not acknowledge the boundaries of men. It is our technological progress that has empowered us to detect adverse natural calamities in advance and exercise safety measures. While that has been a boon for mankind, taking it a step forward will reap tremendous results. While Cyclone Fani left a trail of destruction damaging Odisha's coastal line, it did not cause damage to life. At last count, 34 lives were lost and that will always be unfortunate but millions were saved, and that is a reason to cheer. Disaster preparedness has been an important lesson for Odisha since the 1999 Super Cyclone which killed more than 10,000 people. And, it was evident when Cyclone Phailin and Cyclone Titli hit the coastal state in 2013 and 2018 respectively with the death toll in both under 100. Protecting lives undoubtedly remains the highest of priorities. But the tremendous damage to infrastructure is also to be considered since our disaster preparedness and technology have helped us to save lives but livelihoods are still vulnerable. Restoring infrastructure single-handedly remains a humongous task and add the step of rebuilding the lives of people, especially poor, to it and it hovers as a daunting concern. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's thoughts about Odisha deserving a special category status definitely resonate across a large fraction in consonance. Cyclones, heat waves, droughts, floods collectively leave Odisha with avid psyche towards preparedness and anticipatory measures. Financial assistance from neighbouring states and the Centre are definitely a plus but restoration does not have to cost outrageously. Planning and technology can rescue us from the financial brunt we may face as a nation in the event of a natural calamity like Fani. Climate-resilient infrastructure and focussed disaster management measures will enable us to control the impact since taming nature considerably remains out of our hands. Cities along the coastal line of India must develop exigency plans specific to natural calamities. And, with that, smart planning to minimise damage. Mobilising personnel to evacuate people is impressive but utilising resources and technology to exercise damage control should be the ambition. India and other tropical countries remain vulnerable to cyclones, storm surges and extreme rainfall in the future as predicted by the Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2015) report. Hence, we have a straight answer to 'why we need to step up our existing measures to combat nature's fury', and working on 'how we need to do it' is the need of the hour. There are several avenues to pursue damage control and Odisha must acknowledge it after being a role-model for the whole nation in saving millions of lives through its effective evacuation measures and coordinated disaster preparedness. Cyclone shelters, cyclone-resilient infra, early and precisely outlined alert measures along with trained cadres to manage such events will strengthen the prone areas to withstand such drastic natural events. A conference of coastal states over disaster preparedness will be exemplary to the causes of disaster management and damage control. Electricity, telecommunication, public infrastructure, et al the task of restoration is not easy and if strategising and technological advancement can aid in being even better prepared then it will be a fool's errand to not invest in that.