In what is said to be the biggest peacetime human movement in 23 years, nearly 8.73 lakh people were evacuated last week from 99 blocks spread over 12 districts in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh after the India Meteorological Department sent out an alert on Cyclone Phailin.
While it is commendable how the two state governments managed to evacuate so many people in such a short time, they now face an even bigger challenge: rehabilitation of the displaced people. And it is here that the states have been caught napping.
Take for example, the seaside village of Khairnashi. Once the cyclone alert was sounded, 2,000 people of the village took refuge in a shelter, only to find that it had no basic amenities like toilets. In Ganjam district, there is a shortage of drinking water.
Other than these issues of health and diseases, there is also the challenge of loss of property and livelihood: in Odisha, the cyclone crippled farmers by damaging about 0.6 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land, of which 0.5 million ha had ripe paddy.
Disasters are occurring around the world with greater ferocity and frequency and they hit the poor the hardest. So for a developing country like India, which can expect a large number of natural disasters in the next decade, it’s time that the policy makers shift from being crisis managers to proactive risk managers.
Only by anticipating and planning for disasters like Cyclone Phailin, will they manage to protect development gains made over the past few decades.