From 1999 super cyclone to Cyclone Biparjoy: What more needs to be done to make communities disaster resilient – ActionAid India
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From 1999 super cyclone to Cyclone Biparjoy: What more needs to be done to make communities disaster resilient

Author: Debabrat Patra
Posted on: Tuesday, 20th June 2023
Photo: The urgency of evacuation by the armed forces and the administration resulted in almost zero casualties due to Biparjoy in Gujarat. Photo: Himanshu Bhayani
National governments, including India, need to go beyond minimalistic compensations
When Cyclone Biparjoy hit the Gujarat coast, my colleagues at the non-profit ActionAid and I were visiting a village called Dahibara in Jagatsinghpur, Odisha. This village alone saw over 500 human casualties in the super cyclone of 1999.
The first question we asked the villagers was whether they had received a cyclone warning back then. They replied in the affirmative but did not expect the magnitude of the damage the cyclone could unleash.
At present, there is an active involvement of the administration, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force in evacuating people during disasters in the state.
We also saw the urgency of evacuation by the armed forces and the administration, which resulted in almost zero casualties due to Biparjoy in Gujarat. This is a commendable achievement.
However, a lot of preparation is needed beforehand, not just to build the infrastructure but also to maintain it, keep it ready and make people aware of such events in the future.
Women leaders in Dahibara pointed out the approach road to the cyclone shelter for the ActionAid employees. It was a kutcha road, which gets submerged in the rainy season, making it difficult to access the shelter.
Building good, disaster-resilient roads to the cyclone shelter is, thus, as important as building the shelter itself. This is important because these days, if a cyclone warning is given, people start coming to the shelter on their own.
An important necessity in cyclone-prone areas is individual housing. If people have good, disaster-resilient houses of their own, they prefer to stay in their houses instead of going to the shelter.
This can help avoid overcrowding at shelters and ease the situation for people with disabilities and older people. People, however, come to the shelters when cooked food is distributed.
The cyclone shelter itself was poorly maintained. The plaster was peeling off at several spots and iron rods of the structure were visible. The shelter was not clean either and the toilets were in terrible condition.
Odisha has 503 multipurpose cyclone shelters and 311 multipurpose flood shelters. Thus, an infrastructural audit of the cyclone and flood shelters is crucial before the monsoons and before the advent of cyclones.
This is especially important since the focus now is to evacuate people to safe shelters, but before that, we need to ascertain that these shelters are in a liveable condition with provision for food, water and electricity or generators to ensure power supply.
Dahibara, for example, has over 500 residents, so even if 80 per cent of them come to the shelter (some said they prefer to stay in their houses), it becomes too crowded. Also, people from neighbouring villages like Jhatipari that have no cyclone shelter also come to the Dahibara one.
The cyclone shelters are now used as important centres for various meetings of self-help groups, livelihood enterprises and by children as playgrounds. When we arrived at Dahibara, we could see children playing in front of the shelter and a group of men knitting and repairing their fishing nets.
Some shelters are also used as schools. Thus, cyclone shelters have become important centres of social gathering.
So, these shelters can be used as an important centre to disseminate information about cyclones and floods — the dos and don’ts, State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) norms, safe spaces for children and women and so on.
When people were asked about the compensation norms, they replied in the negative.
The shelters can have wall paintings stating the SDRF norms, the equipment available in the shelter, the members of the shelter committee and so on. This can happen in all the cyclone shelters in the state and the country.
One of the most important losses from natural hazards is the loss of livelihoods. The focus now is to save lives, which is the first step. But how people would rebuild their livelihoods is the next important thing that immediately affects people’s lives.
The rebuilding of livelihoods in a better way should be the next focus of states facing cyclones after they manage to save people’s lives. The media hype goes away after the cyclone passes. The cyclone Biparjoy is no longer in the national headlines. But the havoc it caused to people’s livelihoods is enormous.
A media report stated that about 33,000 acres of farmland were destroyed in Kutch due to Biparjoy in the sowing season. The cyclone caused huge damage to cattle and birds in the area. A lot of fruit trees like mango, chikoo and kharek or dry dates, which are the main livelihood source in parts of Kutch, were uprooted.
So how would these people revive their livelihoods? What kind of compensation would there be for the people who worked on these farmlands? What about the migrant workers affected by natural hazards? It is not just for the landowners but also for the labourers and sharecroppers.
Outdated SDRF and NDRF norms need to be updated to include these concerns so that compensation is timely, adequate, contextual and transparent. The government also needs to see how quickly people get these aids, because any delay will jeopardise their revival and push them back into poverty.
Medical care, which was the prime concern for the women members, is also taken care of by the government these days. Media websites during Biparjoy reported that 1,152 pregnant women were taken to hospitals.
However, authorities must consider setting up medical centres in the vicinity of remote areas, especially in coastal districts. For Dahibara village, the nearest medical centre is in Erasamma — 15 km away. Villagers said it is difficult to access these medical centres during the monsoon.
Another important thing is the revival of the green cover and forests, which the communities opined were inadequate to protect them from any natural hazards. The prawn aquaculture units have eaten away at the farmlands as well.
There was absolutely no evidence of improving the green cover, which could lessen the impact of natural hazards like cyclones. One suggestion was to use the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme creatively to improve the green cover in these coastal villages, especially by involving women leaders in the area.
Climate change impacts marginalised communities and the ecologies they live in, a report by United Nations body Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, clearly stated.
Setting up a climate change loss and damage assessment at the international and national level to help build resilience of vulnerable communities and help rehabilitate survivors is extremely important.
This was also the highlight of the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt, last year. This should also be an important agenda for COP28, to be held in Dubai towards the end of this year.
This could help the national governments, including India, to go beyond minimalistic compensations to timely and adequate compensation in future and help the communities to rebuild the existing livelihoods or pursue alternative livelihoods.
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.