India’s cyclone preparedness is good. But the same can’t be said about other calamities | opinion | Hindustan Times
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India’s cyclone preparedness is good. But the same can’t be said about other calamities

Early warning of earthquake is not possible at the current stage of scientific knowledge and understanding of this hazard. Early warning of landslide is coming up and it may take years before the system passes through the process of trial. We have a flood warning system that is still primitive.

opinion Updated: Dec 13, 2016 13:42 IST
Cyclone Vardah
Cyclone Vardah makes a landfall near Chennai coast, December 12, 2016(PTI)

Cyclone Vardah that lashed India’s east coast on December 12 with a wind speed of 120 km per hour has once again demonstrated that India’s cyclone preparedness has reached its mark. Three severe cyclones in a row - Phailin in Odisha (2013), Hudhud in Andhra Pradesh (2014), and now Vardah in Tamil Nadu - have proved conclusively that India has won the battle against the natural hazard that used to create havoc to the coastal area not so long ago.

The Indian Meteorological Department was able to track the movement of Vardah with precision and issue early warnings to the state governments and district administrations.

Read: Meteorologist warns of second arm of Cyclone Vardah

The Tamil Nadu government rose to the occasion to evacuate thousands of people to cyclone shelters and other safe places. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh cancelled his official trip to the Gulf to supervise the response in Nellore and other places in his state.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) deployed its search and rescue team at vulnerable locations. Relief teams were ready with men and materials to provide food to the affected people. The highways and railways controlled the movement of traffic and emergency support teams were seen restoring power and water supplies and removing uprooted trees and signboards to minimise the time taken for restoration of essential services.

Read: Cyclone Vardah: All 2,376 tourists stranded in Andamans evacuated

Earlier Vardah had crossed over the Malay Peninsula affecting coastal areas of Thailand, parts of Penang state of Malaysia and Western Sumatra of Indonesia. The devastations in these three countries were much more severe - 112 persons were dead, over 4 million affected and assets worth $45 million were lost. The storm blew over Andaman & Nicobar Islands, stranding tourists and confining locals but no significant damage was reported from the island.

While it may be too early to assess the damage and losses in India, early reports indicate that damages to life and economy are not significant.

Read: NDRF teams were ready for Vardah impact; fallen trees, poles being cleared: DG

The success of our cyclone preparedness raises the question why similar success has not been achieved in our preparedness for earthquake, flood, landslide or other natural disasters. The reasons are partly the nature of cyclone itself, which makes it possible to track its growth and movement for three to four days before it strikes, but it is mainly due to the series initiatives taken after the Orissa super cyclone of 1999. This included setting up Doppler radars, constructing cyclone shelters, regenerating mangroves, strengthening community based disaster preparedness, and more recently the World Bank assisted National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Programme that is currently under implementation.

Similar preparedness is not seen for other natural hazards. Early warning of earthquake is not possible at the current stage of scientific knowledge and understanding of this hazard. Early warning of landslide is coming up and it may take years before the system passes through the process of trial. We have a flood warning system that is still primitive.

Read: Andhra govt braces for cyclone Vardah, CM cancels Gulf trip to monitor situation

The system is based mostly on rainfall and river discharge, but other causative factors like settlements pattern, encroachments, drainage system and maintenance of embankments etc. are hardly taken into account. An effective flood warning requires collaborative efforts of central, state and local governments that have been lacking.

Our success in cyclone preparedness surely offers a lesson for improving our preparedness for earthquake, flood and landslides: if we make concerted efforts involving scientists, policy makers, practitioners and communities and invest resources for risk mitigation and disaster preparedness we can certainly replicate the success despite the constraints, difficulties and challenges.

PG Dhar Chakrabarti is former secretary, National Disaster Management Authority and Executive Director, National Institute of Disaster Management

The views are personal