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Millennium Post

Phailin could be lesson in history

As the typhoon-ravaged Philippines picks up the pieces, losing over 10,000 lives in the wake of Haiyan, those of us in India can take a step back and reassess the case of Cyclone Phailin. While we mourn the victims and commiserate with the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, it would do well to compare and contrast how Phailin was tackled that ensured that the loss of lives was reduced to a bare minimum, with just about 28 killed during the course of the tropical cyclone. While both Phailin and Haiyan destroyed swathes of land in their swept, the fact that in the case of the former, timely alert, preparedness, and swift action saved the day for many, can’t be ignored. In fact, the largest-ever mass evacuation made sure that the casualties were minimised, even though over nine lakh people were affected. In case of Haiyan, which has displaced over 3,30,900 people and affected about 4.3 million in 36 provinces of central Philippines, the scale of disaster is so high that it could only be compared with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that wreaked havoc on the American state of New Orleans, leaving the already impoverished region grappling with unfathomable loss of life and property. Moreover, while Katrina launched a storm of media reaction, attributing the then George W Bush-led US government of comparative inaction because New Orleans was an African-American dominated state, no such bias could be attributed to the tackling of Phailin, which struck the east coast of India, affecting mainly the poor and relatively backward state of Odisha.

It is true that when Hurricane Sandy had struck the east coast of the US in October 2012, because the posh district of New York was in the line of fire and because the 2012 presidential election was staring the American government right in the face, the Obama government had done a good job. Since then, the Sandy versus Katrina comparison has become a staple in the discourse of disaster management as well as the politics of selling/underselling catastrophes. It could be said that Phailin had posed a similar problem for the UPA government in the centre and the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha. But despite such proximate reasons, Phailin was tamed ably, and spoke volumes on how coordination at multiple levels can work to snatch victory from the clutches of defeat. While compensation packages, rehabilitation drives and other reparative works are being undertaken, Phailin’s case was a vindication of the hitherto oft-ridiculed Indian Meteorological Department, which gets lambasted frequently for failing to predict the monsoon and weather patterns. Nevertheless, the success of Phailin notwithstanding, what Typhoon Haiyan drives home is the fact every coastal country is vulnerable to the fury of the swelling tide. In fact, what is the near and present danger is applicable to every nation: be it the sunny coasts of California, the island nations of South East Asia, Japan as well as the long and languid peninsular India. While we must stand shoulder to shoulder with Philippines in its moment of misery, we must also remember that it is time we realise the truth about climate change and the blind emphasis on development, which is the reason behind the escalated rates at which the oceanic monsters are hitting us.
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