Super Cyclone Amphan: Timely Response And Lessons To Be Learned

by Brigadier (Dr) Vinod Dutta 1 week ago Views 1249
Super Cyclone Amphan: Timely Response And Lessons
The Bay of Bengal has long been known as a ‘Storm Breeder’. Henry Piddington was a British Meteorologist, who coined the word ‘Cyclone ‘in 1840. This was not for the first time that the city of Kolkata has been hit by a twin disaster. In October 1737, the then Calcutta was nearly obliterated by a cyclone and an earthquake. The scenario in 1737 was unimaginable with tens of thousands of dwellings falling instantly to the ground. They say there was no building in the city that was left with four walls intact, bridges were blown, wharves were carried off by surging water, godowns were emptied of their grains and even gunpowder in the magazines was scattered by the wind. 

People saw huge barges fluttering like kites in the skies. This was the condition of Calcutta, the capital city of India from 1772 to 1912 during that devastating cyclone. That’s why they say it never rains, it pours.

Also Read: Civil Aviation Minister Indicates Govt Could Resume International Flights Even Before August.

The Amphan disaster hit the coastal areas of West Bengal and Odisha at a time when the entire world was fighting the COVID-19 Pandemic and at its peak, the country had to face the challenge to prepare for this super cyclone. In recent times, the super cyclone of Odisha in 1999 was the most devastating, killing more than 10, 000 people. India, thereafter, has addressed this disaster with great deliberations and study. Cyclone Management is a success story in India and has the policies, framework and resources well placed and poised to take on the fury of nature. 

The predictions by IMD (India Meteorological Department) were accurate and the cyclone followed the predicted path, thereby giving authorities time to plan evacuation, relief and response. The NCMC (National Crisis Management Committee) met on May 16 to take stock of the situation. Early warnings were given to locals, evacuation commenced, the cyclone shelters were repurposed as quarantine centres in view of the corona pandemic for migrant workers coming into the states. About 198 centres were utilized for this with almost 36,000 people housed in them. This forced the authorities to look for additional space to accommodate evacuees with social distancing norms to be followed, thereby reducing the capacity of these shelters to 400 from 1,000.

The NDRF teams along with SDRF were deployed and resources were employed well ahead to evacuate people. This was the acid test of the disaster response mechanism, though Odisha has 20 years of rich experience in combating such situations. The takeaways were that we should have the capacity and resources to handle twin disasters simultaneously. Climate changes now dictate that with extreme weather phenomenon increasing in frequency over the last two decades, concurrent calamities have to be factored in, and preparation will need empowering grassroots level administration, people and framework.

Andhra Pradesh, after Cyclone Hud Hud, made drastic changes to reduce the impact of such severe calamities and since the impact of Amphan was more echeloned towards West Bengal and the landfall was in the Sunderbans Delta, the role of mangroves need no emphasis. The submerged mangrove forests are scientific wonders, their complex aerial and submerged root systems moderate current flows and the canopies moderate wind flows.

The city of Kolkata and five districts of West Bengal have seen devastation and the challenges are complex in rural areas as the villages are inundated, dwellings swept away and there was extensive damage to embankments that protect the interiors of islands. Arable lands were swamped by salt water, wildlife perished and fishermen lost boats and nets.

The road map for state governments is to think of more plantations in coastal areas, protecting mangroves, be more serious about climate change and adaptability, as we can reduce the occurrence of such calamities.

 By being the most evolved species on Earth, humans have seen natural cover as captive resources, assuming they exist only to serve them. The current crisis now offers us a huge opportunity to think of our behavior and to genuinely evolve. We must take this opportunity to learn to live far more sustainable lives.    

(Brigadier Vinod Dutta is former, Secretary, DCMG (Disaster Management). He has almost three decades of experience in disaster management. He is presently a senior advisor & Member of Centre Research and Consultancy Committee at Centre for Disaster Management Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. He is also Senior Consultant at the National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi).

- The opinions expressed are of the author's alone   


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