Natural Disasters

Lessons from Cylone Gaja to Tamil Nadu

While the state government’s precautionary measures have helped save many lives, the cyclone offers some very important lessons for the future

By A Mahendran
Published: Monday 17 December 2018
Cyclone Gaja
A file photo of Cyclone Gaja. Credit: Wikimedia Commons A file photo of Cyclone Gaja. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Cyclone Gaja struck Tamil Nadu and Puducherry between November 10 and November 20, 2018.       Thanks to the Tamil Nadu government’s far-sightedness, precautionary measures were taken in time to avoid loss of life. And the results were there for all to see.

In December 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami killed over 23,000 people in 14 different countries. In India, Tamil Nadu was the most affected territory. The tsunami killed over 6,400 people in the state. The highest mortality occurred in Nagapattinam district. After 14 years, Cyclone Gaja affected the same place. But this time, the death rate was below 50. This was achieved by the government’s red alert measures taken in advance.

In the aftermath of the storm, the state government has taken several emergency measures to help victims and survivors. Rationed products like rice, flour, millets, sugar, salt, tea, kerosene and candles are being supplied free of cost. In addition, plastic sheets have been supplied for those living in huts. All schools have declared holidays for one month because village residents living in remote areas are staying in school buildings and government institutions. The mid-day meal kitchens are preparing food and supplying it to families. Electricity board employees are working day and night to ensure power supply to areas needing it. Karnataka State Electricity Board employees and those from other neighbouring states are extending their helping hand.

Non-profits are giving essential items such as medicines, sanitary napkins, water cans, and clothes. Some charitable organisations are offering food items to the affected people. One such voluntary agency is the Youth Association of India in Puducherry. It selected two remote villages and has offered food and other materials which were distributed among more than 1,500 households.

That is not to say there has been no damage. It has however been in financial and economic terms. People lost assets like huts, houses, crops such as coconut, banana, mango, sugarcane, turmeric and paddy in four districts namely Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai and Thanjavur that were expected to benefit the farmers within three months). In addition, small-scale industries like salt processing and dry fish making as well as cereal grain godowns are completely destroyed.

Lessons for the future

Farmers, livestock owners, fishermen and school children have been particularly affected by the storm.

Farmers have taken loans from banks and financiers and then invested money for cultivation which purely depends on the monsoon rains. They said, “We thought that we would earn during the upcoming Pongal season in January. But we were disappointed due to huge losses. We don’t know how to face these losses in the future”. A few farmers have died from sudden heart attacks caused on hearing news that they had suffered unbearable damages in the cyclone.

During a field visit to Thanjavur district, I came across one farmer who was weeping and grieving, “I have lost everything”, he said. He took a loan of Rs. two lakh to take one acre of land on a lease of two years and cultivate bananas. He was expecting that it would yield a handsome profit during Pongal. But the dream was shattered by the cyclone. He lost the entire investment and even his home. Now he is landless, homeless and hopeless.

I came across women who stated that they had lost livestock like cows and goats. “We were earning through these animals. Now, we don’t have a home and live on the road side.” The government took measures to save human life but failed to save animals. Not only domestic animals, zoo animals too died.

School children have lost their homes and stationary. Fishermen have lost their boats and fish nets. Dried fish have been spoiled in this cyclone.

The most primary need of these deprived people is a house to live. The government has to help them to build their huts. It should target the needy who are genuine victims. They must be identified carefully and plans for supporting them and distributing what they want should be made without omitting any victim.

In the future, the government must prepare plans beforehand to safeguard animals, especially livestock from natural calamities to prevent loss. The Indian economy depends on agriculture. So, more attention has to be given to their needs. Save farmers to improve the agricultural growth of our nation.

(A Mahendran teaches economics and is an assistant professor in the Central University of Tamil Nadu, Thiruvarur)

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