1999 – 2019: Odisha disaster management projects growth but Fani bared the blues

Titli showed how Odisha disaster management had no clue of hydrograph analysis during Rushikulyia flash floods. And Fani brought out lack of plan to mitigate disaster effect on power infra

Bhubaneswar: Even as Odisha has come a long way since October 29, 1999 in mitigating the cataclysmic effects of cyclones, on the National Disaster Management Day today the important fact is the State is yet to have a full-proof disaster plan at hand.

Facts did show the disaster management in Odisha has seen a paradigm shift in the last two-decades. The killer Super Cyclone subsumed nearly 10,000 lives, washed away nearly a hundred villages, destroyed 3.5 lakh houses and killed more than two lakh animals. As many as 25 lakh people were marooned then.

And above all, it’s effect on Odisha’s infrastructure was so catastrophic that the state lost contact with the rest of the world for over 24 hours.

Cut to May 3, 2019, when cyclone Fani pummelled Odisha (Puri) with a wind force of 250 km/hr. Despite hitting an area having high population density, the death toll was around 64.

Similarly, the death toll was 77 when the very severe cyclonic storm Titli hit Odisha, though technically it didn’t made landfall in Odisha, in October 2018.

The visible change was a sharp plummet in the death toll.

And Odisha Disaster Management Plan deserves praise for pruning the death toll sharply as its nuanced plan of action in forcible evacuation of population in affected areas, deployment of NDRF or ODRAF or Fire personnel for ensuring prompt relief work showed results on the ground.
However, Titli Cyclone flaps up the gaping holes still inherent in the State’s disaster management plan.

The mismanagement of Rushikulya flash flood post Titli opens up the gaps  – lack of proper hydrograph (response of water flow of Rushikuliya catchment to a rainfall input) analysis.

Without such analysis, the then water secretary and currently Special Relief Commissioner (SRC), PK Jena, ruled out any flood in Rushikuliya basin calling it a deficient basin. The consequences were disastrous.

Much earlier, a field visit of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to Odisha after cyclone Hudhud in 2014, brought out the glaring chinks. Had the OSDMA acted on the shortcomings NDMA pointed out, the Titli disaster would have not been of such high intensity.

The NDMA visit found how Odisha is vulnerable to flash floods post cyclone as it identified loopholes like weak bunds in rivers in Ganjam and high congestion at river mouths.

NDMA has observed that Odisha’s disaster response to cyclone induced flooding is very poor as it found no pre-positioning of excavators, tractor and manpower at block headquarters to restore fast any breaches in river embankments. Moreover, there are no stocking of sufficient sand bags or casuarinas at block-level or near vulnerable pockets to meet such contingency.

The national disaster management body’s reality check has pointed out that in Odisha the early warning dissemination failed to reach the last mile (communities), for which it suggested the State to form State Emergency Operation Centres (SEOC) at taluk and panchayat levels to make the early warning disseminations reach the last mile.

It has also issued guidelines to Odisha to provision wireless sets to power restoration workers so as to eradicate communication and coordination gap.  The body had also asked the State to trim down tree branches that pose danger to power infra within 1-hour after receiving early warning. And had also asked Odisha to conduct regular mock drills  on power restoration work.

Significantly, when cyclone Fani struck Odisha, the chinks brought to fore by NDMA still persisted. And even the State Capital plunged into darkness for nearly ten-long days.