Each time India braces for an extreme climate event, its citizens wait for details on governmental failure to emerge.
That was amply evident in the case of the floods in Kashmir last month, when the Central Water Commission failed to provide a proper flood forecast for Jammu and Kashmir, which could have helped it to prepare for the deluge on September 7.
The disaster has set the Valley’s economy back by decades. To compound the problem, J&K’s official machinery was in a state of stupor for days, overwhelmed by the destruction — and if there was a disaster relief plan in place, no one got to see it in action.
The coordinated response of the Centre and the state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha to Cyclone Hudhud is, however, a refreshing change and portends well for future disaster preparedness, particularly along India’s long coastline.
Picking up from the impressive relief efforts rehearsed last October, when tackling Cyclone Phailin, the governments put in plans in advance and ably harnessed manpower and technological solutions to tackle the cyclone.
Officials swung into action as Hudhud approached Visakhapatnam with winds of 200 kmph, moving over 400,000 people to safer spaces including railway stations and coaches. Armed forces personnel, helicopters and ships were on standby while mass texts were sent to mobiles, providing helpline details. All these have helped in minimising casualties.
Six people lost their lives but the devastation is widespread.
The landscape is strewn with uprooted trees, power lines, hoardings and damaged homes. The full scale will not be known for days as the governments are still coping with heavy rainfall and preparing for possible flash floods in both states while trying to restore essential services.
Three districts of Andhra Pradesh remain inaccessible by road and railway traffic has been severely disrupted along the eastern coast.
The Centre and state governments have done well in weathering Hudhud at its peak. They must now stay the course in reconstruction efforts. The scale of losses in agriculture is yet unknown and would need to be addressed.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu is notably crowd sourcing information on the extent of damage through a downloadable app via the National Remote Sensing Centre.
Other state governments watching this unfold must dust up their disaster relief plans and resume their practice drills. We could tackle Hudhud because Narendra Modi, Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik are all energetic administrators.
It also helped that India has had practice in tackling severe cyclones in the past.
A devastating earthquake in north India, for instance, will not be quite so easy to deal with.