How Odisha's model of disaster preparedness came into being
By Debabrata Mohanty
In October 1999, a super cyclone of massive proportions ripped through the entire Odisha coast snuffing away over 10,000 lives while rendering millions homeless. The 1999 cyclone remains etched in our memories as an apocalyptic failure of the administration as the mighty winds wreaked havoc exposing the extreme vulnerability of people to the whims of nature.
Professor Santosh Kumar of the National Institute of Disaster Management, who has studied the post-disaster response of Odisha in the wake of the 1999 super cyclone as well as the 2019 Fani cyclone, said Odisha has come a long way in the last two decades.
"Odisha has been able to protect its people. That's the most important part. In terms of bringing down the number of lives lost and the people getting affected, the state has done well. This has never happened in one day. Odisha took a conscious decision and gradually built upon its capacity, particularly at the community level. It has successfully started community-level warning, built multi-purpose cyclone shelters under National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project and built an Early Warning Dissemination System with last-mile connectivity. The capacity to deal with natural disasters has increased tremendously at the community level. If there is a model of preventing largescale deaths in disaster, we can call it the Odisha model," said Prof Kumar.
In April 2018, Odisha become the first Indian state to have an early warning system in place for natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunami for people living along its 480 km-long coast. The EWDS is a full-proof communication system to address the existing gap in disseminating disaster warning by strengthening the emergency operation centres in the state. At present, as many as 1,205 villages from 22 blocks in the coastal districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Puri and Ganjam have been covered under the EWDS. As part of the system, watchtowers have been set up at 122 locations within 1.5 km from the coastline for dissemination of cyclone or tsunami warning through sirens and mass messaging.
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