By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, June 5, 2021: Any disaster is a learning process. Covid-19 pandemic has taught us few lessons to withstand the fury of the disasters by strictly following command structure and most importantly the participation and cooperation of local communities in the affected area.

Nature is unpredictable. Nothing in the world can withstand its fury. Natural disaster comes without warning. Tropical cyclones are the deadliest of all natural disaster worldwide, accounting for about 64% of the total loss of lives. The total of 80-100 tropical cyclones which have occurred worldwide every year cause an average death of 20,000 people and a total economic loss of $6-7 billion.

The Indian subcontinent is the worst affected. The tropical cyclones affect this region in two seasons: Pre-monsoon (April-May), Post monsoon (October-December). Among the highly susceptible country neighboring Bay of Bengal in terms of number of occurrence of cyclonic storm as compared to other countries, India is having maximum number. Thirteen coastal states and Union Territories in the country are affected by tropical cyclones; the major four states which are more vulnerable to cyclone hazards are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal along with Pondicherry on the east coast and Gujarat on the west coast.

The east coast has historically been more vulnerable to cyclones than the west coast. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the Bay of Bengal has had 520 cyclones between 1891 and 2018, compared with 126 in the Arabian Sea. Indeed, the list of cyclones that India has experienced is long with intense cyclones from 1999 to 2020 including the very recent Amphan and others like Kyarr, Maha, Vayu, Fani, Gaja, Titli, Okhi, Varada, Hudhud, Phailin, Helen, Neelam, Phyan etc that left a trail of destruction along the coastal states. Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Yaas was a relatively strong and highly damaging tropical cyclone that made landfall in Odisha and brought significant impacts to West Bengal during late May 2021.

Odisha which is 480 km long and 10-100 km wide is vulnerable to cyclone, flood, and storm surge because of its geographical location. Flood, drought and cyclones visit the state with unfailing regularity. A deadly cocktail of these calamities has made Orissa the disaster capital of India. Around 26 per cent of the total cyclonic disturbances of the Indian subcontinent affect Odisha coast.

Why is this happening? Is there an emerging pattern in this cycle of destruction? There is evidence that suggests that the state’s ecology and weather conditions have undergone a change. Experts believe Orissa might well be showing up the impact of climate change induced by global warming.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik proposed two long-term solutions during the Prime Minister’s post-Cyclone Yaas review meeting on May 28 such as modern technology-based cyclone resilient electricity system and long-term measures for protection of coastal areas from frequent cyclones in the state.

Not much attention has been given to the ground realities on the coast and how to address them in a long term eco friendly manner so that the coasts are protected from erosion. Due to strong public pressure from the sections of people who live on the coast and who are immediately affected by the erosion, the states normally come up with quick fix short term solutions like sea walls or bunds.

Before funds are sanctioned to the various states for taking up beach protection or to check sea erosion works, the respective governments should conduct a scientific study to identify the cause before execution of some ill advised solutions which could prove to be of irreversible harm to the coastline and wildlife, says green activist Biswajit Mohanty.

Every sandy coast is dynamic and undergoes several changes due to the effects of wind and rain. Every year, erosion and deposition is a part of a dynamic cycle which maintained equilibrium at some levels. However, manmade interventions over several decades done without following the ‚Äúprecautionary principle‚ÄĚ have upset this fragile equilibrium and lead to unintended ecological changes and adverse effects.

The setting up of the Paradip Port in 1966 immediately led to the loss of the beaches north of the port. The sea which was 3 kms away from Nehru Bungalow before 1970 advanced menacingly and could be stopped only with a costly intervention of a sea wall of more than 7 kms length. This completely destroyed the local beach. Now the waves break at Nehru Bungalow itself. Once the erosion was arrested at Nehru Bungalow area, the effects started showing up at Gahirmatha turtle nesting beach, about 30 kms north of the port. We have lost huge swathes of beach as per the National Institute of Ocean Technology, (NIOT), Chennai study, which clearly shows the progressive loss of Gahirmatha beaches over last thirty years, according to Mohanty.

On top of that huge hatcheries some legal and mostly illegal have come up by clearing mangrove forests. Mangroves are best at fighting tropical cyclones globally. Approximately 90 percent of total benefits of mangroves are for protection from tropical cyclones, while 10 percent are from protection from regular (non-cyclonic) conditions. The benefits from mangroves increase as the time between cyclonic events increases and become even more significant during the more intense flood events which can cause significant damage.

Mangroves not only help India economically by protecting coastal assets during cyclones, but also help by protecting people in densely populated coastal areas. It is needless to say that there is an urgent need to protect and conserve mangroves. With climate change, the intensity and frequency of the events like cyclones, floods are expected to increase. Integrated coastal management approach is key to coastal protection measures, which the authorities should strive without fail.

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of