How Phailin was different from super cyclone 1999

Improvements in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness, and lessons learnt from 1999, made all the difference

By Jyotsna Singh
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

For three to four days before cyclone Phailin hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, memories of the 1999 super cyclone made authorities and people fearful of what the cyclone would bring. The super cyclone devastated vast stretches of the state and so do did Phailin. But there is a big difference between what happened then and now—over 10,000 people were killed in Odisha in October 1999, while Phailin's toll was less than 30.

The intensity of cyclone Phailin, measured by wind speed, storm surge and rainfall, was also different—the super cyclone being far more intense on all counts. However, improvements in weather forecasting and disaster preparedness, after lessons learnt from 1999, proved crucial in reducing the extent of the disaster. A six-point comparison between the two cyclones:

Better forecast: Weather forecast has improved tremendously since 1999. Data collection of over the past decade has made climate models more precise and accurate.

"We can track a cyclone more accurately and precisely now. The models have improved, as well as the amount of data that we have fed into them," says A D Rao, head of Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.

Nature of the cyclone: The landfall of the storm in 1999 was delayed by 30 hours. It hung near the coastline for almost 11 hours, causing maximum damage. Phailin's made the landfall three hours after the predicted time.

"Physical movement of the storm was far more devastating last time," says M Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairperson of National Disaster Management Authority.

Better disaster preparedness: In 1999, preparedness of the Odisha government was poor. Andhra Pradesh was better prepared and helped Odisha overcome the disaster situation. "Odisha did not even have instruments to cut trees that fell on the roads," says Reddy.

Since then, Odisha has improved its disaster preparedness and management. It has built 200 cyclone shelters. The government runs schools, anganwadis and community centres in them to ensure regular maintenance.

"Under a World bank project called the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation, 148 more shelters are being built. Twenty-eight of them are functional and proved useful when Phailin hit the coast," informs Reddy.

It is a Rs 1,497-crore project. In Phase-I of the project (2010-2015), only Odisha and Andhra Pradesh are being covered. Andhra is getting Rs 770 crore to improve disaster management, while Odisha's share is Rs 640 crore.

Setting up of communication means: "The communication means and protocols have improved. This time, NDMA managed the channel of communication from the Central government level to the district level," says Reddy. Timely communication ensured the authorities got three to four days to prepare. The key was evacuation, moving people away from unsafe places.

In the aftermath of Phailin, Andhra Pradesh has set up its National Disaster Management Force, a recommendation that had been lying with the state government for many years

Setting up of disaster management force: Both Odisha and Andhra have their own personnel to deal with disaster—Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and Andhra Pradesh State Disaster Response Force.

Mock drills: NDMA conducts mock drills to check and prepare local authorities and people for disaster and help reduce damage to the minimum. "Odisha state has been conducting a mock drill every June 19 since 2006 in areas like Jagatsingpur district and Paradip, which are cyclone prone. This also helps in managing disaster and reduce casualty," says Reddy. 


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  • Yes, surely the response in

    Yes, surely the response in case of Cyclone Phailin has been very effective and prompt, but it owes to ground level preparedness involving communities and stakeholder groups including schools, NGOs, local administration, industry, etc. However, there are many lessons to be learnt for future from dealing with cyclone Phailin:
    1. There is much difference in case of cyclone forewarning as compared to other hydro-met disasters like floods, flash floods, etc. IMD had given warning and alert 6-7 days in advance. However, the fact remains that despite of met forecast and warning with visuals, the actual action started only 20 hours or so before the actual landfall of cyclone. Before it, the situation was full of confusion and dullness as to what has to be done. That is the reason people were evacuated by force as well.
    2. The affair of emergency response including evacuation and relief was efficient and effective, for which we efforts are appreciable. However, the efforts became successful and effective on their own as chance but not because they were undertaken in organised and well-planned manner. They were not as per the plans or drills, or were not much organised professionally. However, the dedication and seriousness of disaster managers, and challenge to show effective disaster response (at least after Uttarakhand disaster) fulled with commitment and energy to perform and sustain in efforts.
    3. Human causalities, as direct result of cyclone, has been minimized or avoided. However, protection of livelihood, resources, industry, livestock and agriculture, farms & orchards, have not been possible. A large number of people when returned didnt find home and if found home (shelter) are devoid of livelihood, many lost their land as become unproductive - farms full of silt, sand, and saline ingress, trees uprooted, fish ponds destroyed, etc. In such situation, people are certain to face challenge to their living and many may migrate or die out of hunger, poverty and diseases in absence of capacity for treatment.
    4. Coastal communities live on ecosystem services, and their all occupations are associated to ecosystems, even business and industry there are dependent of such services. How to save such services and restore after a disaster, is a big question.
    5. Damage assessment in India, despite having good knowledge of EIA methods and mechanisms - tools, is very poor, is summarized with primary estimates of damages to life, injury, houses, crop loss, etc. but actually loss is not taken care of - no estimate of economic value of environmental losses, which actually govern major part of livelihood and local economy. This calls for undertaking research studies.
    There are many more lessons, I mention here a few.
    ANIL Gupta, NIDM

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