It has been 2 years since Cyclone Fani left a trail of destruction in Odisha. Cyclone Amphan is a recent memory. Some weather models had recently predicted the possibility of a cyclonic depression forming around May 10th. For the moment it seems unlikely that the cyclone would hit Odisha. However, cyclones can be unpredictable.
Odisha has learnt hard lessons from the super cyclone of 1999. The government has worked extremely hard to protect vulnerable populations from a cyclone. Odisha has done well in reducing loss of life during Cyclone Fani to a bare minimum. The Covid-19 pandemic has totally changed the situation. Odisha is once again vulnerable to loss of lives, were a cyclone to hit, for entirely different reasons. It is possible to minimize this risk.
Covid-19 knocks out people’s respiratory capacity. Supplemental oxygen, ICU care and ventilator support are needed to keep a severely ill patient alive. When a patient is critically ill every minute counts. Even a few minutes without oxygen or ventilator support can kill such a person. These support systems consume a lot of electricity. A cyclone can snap the power supply to Covid hospitals. Even if power is restored in a few hours, many could die in a matter of minutes. Hospitals must maintain fuel reserves of a few days to run back up power generators. Restoring power could take a few days. Wherever possible constructing underground power lines is the best long term solution to cyclone proofing electric supply of vital installations.
Odisha is fulfilling the oxygen needs of many parts of the country. Most oxygen production plants have vital installations outdoors. These installations need to be made cyclone-damage resistant. Even a few days of interrupted oxygen production would cause suffering and death on a national scale. Oxygen bottling plants are equally important. In these plants oxygen made in production plants are filled into oxygen cylinders, so that they can be distributed to hospitals and patients. Bottling plants too need to be upgraded, so as to be cyclone-damage resistant.
Cyclone shelters have been a game-changer in Cyclones. By sheltering vulnerable populations, many lives have been saved from cyclones. Yet given Covid 19 being airborne, the same shelters if not modified could act as super spreaders. Additional buildings must be identified as cyclone shelters immediately. This will prevent overcrowding of cyclone shelters. If cyclone centres are overcrowded Covid19 would spread rapidly. Adequate stores of masks and sanitizers need to be stocked in all cyclone shelters.
In the event of a super cyclone, a certain amount of breakdown in social distancing is inevitable. Back up infrastructure and medical supplies should be ready. An adequate stockpile of medicines, oxygen cylinders and ventilators must be maintained in cyclone-safe zones. Provisions for rapid transport of medical essential supplies in adverse conditions are necessary. In the aftermath of a cyclone, Ivermectin can be given as prophylaxis, to rescue worker as well as communities at risk of Covid19 infection. Disaster response and rescue teams should be vaccinated as soon as possible. They must also have adequate stock of masks and PPE kits. With prompt strengthening of Odisha’s disaster management system, large scale deaths and infection can be prevented.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author is an Orthopedic Surgeon and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)