The US has been ravaged by an unprecedented triple storm that, at its peak, stretched nearly 2,000 kilometres and affected the most densely populated part of the country. Though the final death toll is yet to be determined, it seems unlikely to exceed a handful, and though the New York Stock
Exchange was shut down for the first time since 9/11, analysts predict no major economic consequences for the US. The main hurdle faced by the authorities has been the reluctance of many residents to heed evacuation warnings, seemingly under the belief that Hurricane Sandy is more hype than horror. Finally, of course, the storm has brought what is proving to be one of the closest presidential elections in recent history to a grinding halt. Neither President Barack Obama nor his rival, Mitt Romney, wish to be tainted with the charge of making political hay out of a national emergency.
Emerging nations like India should take note of the extent of official preparation, from federal to local level, which was taken for Hurricane Sandy. What should also be noted is the resilience of the economy in the face of such a catastrophic shock. The former derives from the administrative strength and responsibility that lies with local authorities in most developed nations. This allows a much more targeted and faster response to emergencies and multiple sources of assistance. Local government, especially in cities, remains more a theoretical construct than a practical reality in India. The latter strength derives from having an economy where risk evaluation is built into all levels. This ensures a network of insurance coverage, risk protection and procedures to reduce the cost of emergencies is automatically built into the political and economic infrastructure of the country.
This is, at best, rudimentary in India where even basic insurance coverage remains unknown to the vast bulk of the population and large swathes of the economy make no allowance for either Mother Nature or the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The lesson that should be drawn from Hurricane Sandy is not that no one can withstand the elements at their worst. It is, rather, that there are means to absorb and rebound from such catastrophes with minimal loss of life, minimal loss of time and minimal loss of money.