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National disaster management body to document lessons from cyclone Fani

Four months after cyclone Fani hit Odisha, the National Institute of Disaster Management is planning to bring out a document on lessons that have been learnt from the disaster.

The super cyclone of 1999 that led to the death of over 10,000 people in coastal Odisha was the most catastrophic natural disaster in the history of the state. Twenty years later, cyclone Fani that hit Odisha coast at Puri on May 3 led to the loss of only 64 people largely due to a massive evacuation of over 1.5 million people, yet caused loss of Rs 24,176 crore, as per a damage and loss assessment report authored by World Bank, Asian Development Bank and various UN agencies.

The NIDM under the Ministry of Home Affairs that did a similar report on 1999 super cyclone, now plans to bring out a document on the areas that Odisha excelled at and also the aspects that the state needs to get better. The document would be released at an event in Bhubaneswar by the end of this month.

Among other lessons, the document on Fani would detail lack of exact recovery plan, how inadequate workforce and ground clearance machineries delayed restoration, unavailability of concrete guidelines for judicious distribution of materials like polythene sheets during immediate relief phase and failure of post-disaster communication.

“What we are looking at is if Odisha gets affected by another cyclone, which is a possibility considering its location, what it can do to better. The state has been able to reduce the impact of Fani on human lives, but we are trying to see if it can reduce the impact on livestock, environment and the infrastructure. We are also examining how other states can draw lessons from the way Odisha handled the cyclone in terms of record evacuation,” said Professor Santosh Kumar, head of Governance and Disaster Risk Reduction in NIDM.

Prof Kumar said the document would detail the challenges that Odisha faced like prolonged power outage in Puri, the ground zero of Fani, where power supply finally resumed to the affected areas as late as early August.

“Even Bhubaneswar too bore the brunt of the cyclone as massive power structures were twisted out of shape affecting supply for weeks. The document would have details on what alternative arrangements can be thought of in future,” he said.

Cyclone Fani laid bare the weaknesses in the power infrastructure of Odisha as over 1.5 lakh electric poles were either uprooted or twisted. It also brought into focus the failure in implementing the Disaster Resilient Power Supply scheme that was announced in the wake of cyclone Phailin in 2013.

The DRPS had prescribed underground cabling system for the vulnerable coastal zones and use of H poles, which is used by the Railways for overhead transmission of electricity, to withstand the ferocity of the high winds. The H poles are stable and multi-purpose poles made of two steel joints held apart by a slab of concrete in the middle.

Officials of Odisha State Disaster Management Authority, which is partnering with NIDM for the document, said some of the other areas that the document would focus on are priority on social inclusion, concrete guidelines for distribution of materials, unwillingness of people to shift to shelters early and less number of cyclone shelters in inland compared to coastal areas.

Chief general manager of OSDMA, Pradeep Nayak said discrimination of Dalits during pre and post-disaster phase proved to be a new challenge.

“Though cyclone shelters save lives of people, in many cases there was segregation in the arrangement of food and use of facilities between people from dominant social classes and those from vulnerable groups such as Dalits. There were instances where Dalits faced discrimination and humiliation while seeking protection in cyclone shelters at Balabhadrapur, Biripada, and Hatasahi in Puri district. Fishing communities also faced the same discrimination. The NIDM document would dwell upon the narrative of discrimination and detail a deliberate strategy for inclusion,” said Nayak.

NIDM officials, who last week held a workshop, said the one of the focus areas of the document would be on ensuring effective post-disaster communications. Though OSDMA in July last year had operationalised the five layer of communication system under the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project involving satellite and terrestrial communication system, all of them failed soon after Fani made a landfall in Puri on May 3.

There was no standard operating procedure for satellite phones, 58 of them, kept with collectors of affected districts as well as chief secretary, proved to be of little use for the first 48 hours of the disaster. While terrestrial telecommunications lines such as landphones and mobile phones went for a toss, the satellite phones did not work due to lack of docking stations, ensuring that Puri remained cut-off for 48 hours after cyclone Fani’s landfall.

Messengers had to be sent to Puri and other affected areas physically on May 5 to gauge the status. Even the Odisha State Wide Area Network (OSWAN), which was set up to connect the state with 30 district headquarters and 284 block headquarters and 61 horizontal offices through data, video and voice communications, also failed.

First Published:
Sep 11, 2019 15:37 IST

Source: HindustanTimes