25 years of Odisha Super Cyclone: A study of Jagatsinghpur shows advances & the way ahead – ActionAid India
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25 years of Odisha Super Cyclone: A study of Jagatsinghpur shows advances & the way ahead

Author: Debabrat Patra|BN Durga|Aditi Roy|Anand Shankar Patra
Posted on: Tuesday, 10th October 2023
As we approach the 25th year of the Super Cyclone in Odisha, there are several things we need to celebrate for the advances made in disaster preparedness, timely warnings and evacuation and response. But we also need to evaluate the gaps and plan better for upcoming climate-related disasters. Global warming has heightened cyclone intensity, multiple rapid intensifications leading to unpredictability of cyclone behaviour, according to a study by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS). This calls for better forecasting systems, strengthening of disaster response systems and infrastructure improvement.

Warning & evacuation

In 1999, despite the presence of a cyclone shelter in a few places like the village of Padampur, there was a significant issue in disseminating timely information to the villagers. There was no organised evacuation process initiated in 1999, leading to only a few villagers evacuating themselves and seeking refuge in the cyclone shelter. Unfortunately, most of the villagers who did not reach safer places faced the dire consequences of the Super Cyclone. However, since then, there has been a commendable enhancement in disaster preparedness and response mechanisms, ensuring that all villagers are evacuated to safe locations when cyclones are approaching. During Cyclone Phailin and the subsequent flood in 2013, for instance, 983,642 people from 15 districts and 171,083 people from three districts were evacuated. Also, during Cyclone Hudhud in 2014, 255,043 people from 11 districts; during Cyclone Titli (2018) 360,132 people from five districts; during Cyclone Fani (2019) 1,557,170 people from 19 districts; during Cyclone Bulbul (2019) 11,458 people from five districts; during Cyclone Amphan (2020) 200,346 people from 13 districts were evacuated to the safe shelters (according to the Special Relief Commissioner, Odisha). Timely and organised evacuation is critical in safeguarding lives and minimising the impact of disasters. What we now need is the prior identification of the vulnerable households having persons with disability, aged persons, pregnant women, children and prioritising them in the evacuation process, with help of the community radios.

Cyclone shelter adequacy

Since 1999, the cyclone shelter capacity in Padampur fell significantly short of what was needed. The issue has been exacerbated by rapid population growth. As the population has expanded, the capacity of cyclone shelters has struggled to keep pace. This enduring problem underscores the critical need for infrastructure development and expansion to provide refuge for all residents during natural calamities. The projected population of Jagatsinghpur was 1.22 million for 2023 — at least 15 per cent population growth since 1999. This factor needs to be considered and used to plan new cyclone shelters. A significant 78 per cent of the villagers in 14 villages we surveyed for evaluation of advances since the Super Cyclone have reported that the available space within the cyclone shelter is insufficient.

Maintenance, repairs and accessibility

Cyclone shelters in Padampur are regularly maintained and repaired but this cannot be said of the 14 other villages surveyed during our study. Approximately 67.7 per cent of respondents expressed that the existing cyclone shelters are unsafe and 76 per cent say that the cyclone shelters are not maintained properly with plasters coming off, windows broken, among others problems. While there are toilet facilities available now, they are often unsanitary and unusable. Some of these shelters have even been officially deemed unfit for habitation by the Odisha government. Over 20 per cent of the respondents reported the absence of cyclone shelters in their villages. Only a mere 12.1 per cent of the participants expressed satisfaction with the current condition of cyclone shelters. Another 52 per cent of the respondents said that roads leading to the cyclone shelter are kutcha (unmetalled) and not in a good condition. This needs to be urgently improved so that people can easily reach the cyclone shelters. Also there is a need to do an audit of the cyclone shelters considering the factors of population, accessibility, adequacy, safety, discrimination and so on. It is unfortunate that discrimination has emerged in certain areas between Odia and Bengali communities where they live together. In these places, the Bengali community experiences discrimination, where access to relief and resources is prioritised for the Odia community. Furthermore, the Bengali community often faces barriers to accessing these shelters. Most of the women in this community said there is a need for safe spaces for women in the cyclone shelter. There is a need to foster an environment where all community members are treated fairly and provided with equal access.

Relief support

On a positive note, 46 per cent of the surveyed population does receive proper food, and they are content with the quantity provided. However another 46 per cent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the provided ration and food. Within this group, a significant majority do not even receive the expected relief. In villages lacking cyclone shelters, 8 per cent of the population remains unfamiliar with these forms of relief. These findings underscore the importance of establishing a consistent and effective relief distribution system. Ensuring equitable access to essential resources like food is crucial. Also the relief should be adequate. The current provision of Rs 4,000 per damaged kutcha house (mud house), for instance, is not enough to repair it.

Medical, psychosocial support

Just like ensuring the well-being of pregnant women is crucial, it’s equally important to have mechanisms for immediate medical and psychosocial help. This could involve developing strategies to address the unique healthcare needs through timely and appropriate medical support. A cadre volunteer at local level needs to be developed with their capacity building through institutions like NIMHANS, so that they will be able to identify the people in need of psychosocial support, provide further referral support and extend psychosocial care at a community level.   A Mamta Gruha (care home) where vulnerable groups received comprehensive care after the Super Cyclone in 1999. Photo: Author provided  

Alternative livelihoods

Currently, there is growing demand for revision in the State Disaster Response Force compensation norms based on the evolving needs of the affected population to better address the diverse livelihood challenges and impacts brought due to emergencies. Apart from compensating the loss of livelihoods in a timely manner as per the SDRF norms, alternative livelihoods like mushroom cultivation need to be promoted. Mushroom cultivation by collectives of women with cluster-based approach will have increased production as well as income. Also, it is urgent to regulate the uncontrolled shrimp farming in the district, which has coastal ecology and agricultural land. Enhancing green cover Last but not the least, apart from the recommendations around cyclone shelters, livelihoods, relief and health, another vital thing is the importance of enhancing forest cover and implementing disaster-resilient plantation practices using mangroves, cashew trees, among others. This ecological measure can play a pivotal role in mitigating the impact of cyclones and fostering overall environmental resilience and curbing coastal displacement. The 1999 Odisha Super Cyclone was a landmark event in the history of disaster management in the country. It saw the establishment of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority and unfurled similar action in other states and at the national level. This included the establishment of the National Disaster Management authorities, rapid action forces like Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and National Disaster Response Force as well as several policy advances. However, as we remember these achievements, we also need to review them all and listen to the voices of people who are facing devastating disasters right now.
Disclaimer: The article was originally published on DownToEarth. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of ActionAid Association.