In emergency plans, Odisha better than most
Two decades ago, Odisha was ravaged by a super cyclone that killed close to 10,000 people and rendered 1.5 million homeless. Between October 29 and October 30, 1999, the super cyclone, with storm surges of 16-23 feet and wind speeds up to 260 kmph, devastated the coastal state and set it back by several decades.
But Odisha learnt from the tragedy. “In Odisha we have empowered the local community. All vulnerable parts of the state have active Cyclone Management Centres, where the local sarpanch are spearheading the preparedness. At each centre, there are volunteers who have been given rescue equipment to each centre. In our preparedness, community is our first point of contact for rescue,” said Bishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner of Odisha.
Odisha currently has about 50 local well-trained volunteers attached to each of the 879 multipurpose cyclone shelters who can render assistance during times natural disaster. On June 19 every year, Odisha holds mock exercises on flood and cyclone management to test the preparedness. “Like all previous disasters, our goal is not to allow a single person to die,” added Sethi.
Odisha also has a disaster-specific institutional mechanism. It established 16 district-level Disaster Management Planning Committees, which reach out to 155 block-level bodies and 22,000 village-level bodies. The state also raised 20 units of Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), comprising highly trained personnel with multi-disaster tackling capabilities.
“The IMD predictions are accurate on cyclone and come at least 72 hours before the system hits the coast. In 1999, by the time IMD predicted it to be a super cyclone, it was just two days prior to the actual landfall,” said Sarat Sahu, a meteorologist.
Improvement in coordination between government departments has also helped. “There was little coordination between state government’s own departments as well as Centre and State. Odisha used to rely on New Delhi and Kolkata for weather forecasts over telephone which led to delay in receiving weather
warnings,” he said.