Natural Disasters

As Fani looms large, we should remember what a cyclone costs Odisha

Odisha, which is bracing up for the extremely severe cyclone that’s predicted to make landfall on May 3, faces two natural disasters every year

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Tuesday 30 April 2019
Cyclone Fani
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Odisha was just going to resume its normal state of affairs after completing the general and state assembly elections, when the state government put it into another emergency phase: preparing for Fani, an extremely severe cyclone, that is predicted to make landfall on May 3.

According to the Indian Meteorological Department’s latest bulletin, Fani, which was set to hit Tamil Nadu coast by April 30, has changed its path and will now hit Odisha.

The Union government, sensing the severity of the cyclone, has already release Rs 1,086 crore to four states including Odisha. The decision was taken after a meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee in Delhi.

Recurring disasters

The state, often referred to as the nation’s capital of disaster, is back in news for recurring natural disasters. Though Odisha, one of the most susceptible states to cyclones, is usually hit by such a storm in post-monsoon phase of October-November, pre-monsoon cyclones are also not unusual.

Just seven months ago in October 2018, cyclone Titli had battered Odisha. The just-concluded elections even saw the Super Cyclone of 1999 become a poll issue in coastal areas of the state.

In an unusual twist, Titli had also changed its direction and moved towards the northeast after making landfall.

In October 2013, cyclone Phailin had struck the state and it was the largest storm to hit Odisha after 1999.

“Between 1900 and 2011, the state experienced floods in 59 years, severe cyclones in 24 years, droughts in 42 years, severe heat waves in 14 years and tornadoes in seven years,” said Saudamini Das of Institute of Economic Growth in her research paper Economics of Natural Disasters in Odisha.

So, for this period, the state at an average faced 1.3 natural calamities a year. Pointing at the increasing frequency of natural or weather-related disasters, she found that since 1965, the state has been experiencing two to three disasters almost every year.

A recent report by the state government put the state’s coastal zone as the “most” vulnerable in the country to reoccurrence of storms and severe storms. In every 15 months, the state faces re-occurrence of such storms. In case of Andhra Pradesh, it is 20 months while for the other Bay of Bengal state — West Bengal — it is 28 months.

Of the last century’s 1,035 cyclonic disturbances that hit the Indian sub-continent, close to half hit the eastern coast, while Odisha experienced 263 of them. This means one-fourth of the total disasters in the last 100 years battered Odisha.

Economy hit

Recurring natural disasters is already an economic challenge for the state, one of the poorest in the country. According to Das’ paper, loss due to disasters has been increasing manifold. Her calculation shows that in the 1970s natural disasters caused property loss of Rs 1,050 crore. In 1980s this increased by seven times and in 1990s, it went up by 10 times over the ’70s figure. This increase in loss also accounts the fact that the state’s infrastructure had also increased in all these years.

However, she maintains that natural disasters have definitely put pressure on the state economy, and it is going to get worse. Severe floods and cyclones are the two most expensive disasters in term of economic losses, she argues.

“A one-year increase in severe flood/cyclone occurrences cost the state Rs 9,690 crore billion and severe drought occurrence shrink the economy by Rs 6,940 crore,” mentions Das.

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